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Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf arrested in Montana

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - Former NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf, once a Heisman Trophy finalist and San Diego Chargers first round draft choice, was arrested in his hometown of Great Falls, Montana, on theft and drug charges, authorities said on Saturday.

Leaf was arrested on Friday on suspicion of felony burglary and drug possession as well as a misdemeanor theft charge, authorities said. Great Falls police were unable to provide further details on Saturday.

The arrest came just weeks after Leaf, 35, completed daily radiation treatments stemming from surgery last spring to remove a benign brain tumor.

The allegations come just months since publication of a book he co-wrote about his role in winning Washington State University's first Pac-10 title and leading the Washington State Cougars to the Rose Bowl in 1998.

Supporters of the one-time West Texas A&M quarterback coach are hopeful that the criminal charges are unfounded, said Greg Witter, who co-authored the book, "596 Switch," with Leaf.

Leaf has fought to conquer an addiction to painkillers brought on by a severe wrist injury that has plagued him since playing for the Chargers, he added.

"If the allegations are accurate, it's clearly disappointing. But, more than anything else, it speaks to you about how horrible addiction is and how difficult it is to overcome," said Greg Witter, who co-authored the book, "596 Switch," with Leaf.

"I know how hard Ryan has worked to get his life back," Witter said.

While Leaf was one of college football's brightest stars in the late 1990s, he lasted only four years in the NFL and was rated by a recent NFL films documentary and one of the biggest busts in the history of the professional football league.

After undergoing treatment for the addiction, Leaf returned to the national sports scene with publication of his book and book-signing tour. He also worked as a sports commentator for talk radio programs, Witter said.

Witter, a Seattle communications consultant, and three other Washington State boosters form what Witter called a "council of elders" for the former star quarterback.

The council has provided professional and personal support to Leaf as he battled a prescription painkiller habit, Witter said. Leaf's struggles with addiction came to public light three years ago when he faced drug charges in Texas.

He was still on probation for those violations when he was arrested in Montana. He was released from the Cascade County Detention Center in Montana on Friday after posting a $76,000 bond, authorities said.

Witter said the advisors had dinner with Leaf in Seattle less than a month ago. Leaf had lost a significant amount of weight and showed other signs of his battle with the brain tumor and nearly two months of daily radiation treatments. That therapy ended in December.

"Addiction is a lifelong affliction and you can never let your guard down," he said. "The bottom line is we want Ryan to get all the help he needs."

Leaf is scheduled to appear before a Montana judge on Monday to face the charges.

(Editing by Mary Slosson and Greg McCune)

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