10 Amazing College Athletes Who Fizzled in the Pros

10 Amazing College Athletes Who Fizzled in the Pros
10 Amazing College Athletes Who Fizzled in the Pros
It happens every year: The golden boy, so lauded during his collegiate career, becomes an albatross for whatever pro-level team he’s joined. Sometimes it’s bad luck, sometimes it’s the pressure of going to the bigs, and sometimes it’s just one of those things. The athletes on this list probably never dreamed that their days of stardom as college students would lead to pressure and failure in the pros. Let that be a lesson: No matter how good you are, there’s always someone better.
Ryan Leaf: Ryan Leaf was a high school football star in Minnesota who played quarterback for Washington State University in the 1990s. While there, he set a Pac-10 record for touchdown passes and took the school to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 67 (!) years. He was a finalist for the Heisman, he was first-team All-American, and he was pretty much guaranteed to be the next big thing. So what happened? In the 1998 NFL Draft, Leaf was the second pick in the first round, where he went to the San Diego Chargers. Soon enough, though, he started to crumble. He completed only one of 15 passes in his third game of the 1998 season and was eventually benched for poor performance. Blaming his teammates and attacking the media probably didn’t win him any favors, either. His sat out his second season, injured, and missed more of his third year for more injuries. Very brief and predictably terrible appointments followed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who cut him after preseason) and the Dallas Cowboys (who cut him after four games.) He joined the Seattle Seahawks but retired before the season started. He coached briefly at West Texas A&M before running afoul of the law on drug charges. A pathetic end to what looked to be a promising career.
Brian Bosworth: Linebacker Brian Bosworth played football at the University of Oklahoma in the 1980s, where he garnered a reputation for speaking out against the NCAA. Despite trouble for steroid use, he won the first two Butkus Awards, which go to the top college linebacker, a feat that no other player has managed to repeat. The controversial figure was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in the 1987 supplemental draft for a hefty 10-year, $11 million contract, but his star started to fade when he made grandiose promises before a game against the Raiders about stopping Bo Jackson, only to have Jackson run him over like a steamroller. A shoulder injury in 1988 meant he only played two games in the 1989 season, after which he was forced into retirement. He worked as a color man for the short-lived XFL in 2001 and showed up opposite Adam Sandler in The Longest Yard. Pretty weak end to the antics and attitude that once boasted so much more.
Andre Ware: Playing at the University of Houston in the late 1980s, Andre Ware was the first black quarterback to win the Heisman. He also broke a ridiculous number of records his junior year with the Cougars, when he threw for 4,699 yards and 44 touchdowns. He opted not to complete his senior year in order to be eligible for the NFL Draft. He went seventh in the first round to the Detroit Lions in 1990, but in four years with the team he only played 14 games. He was usually relegated to playing or starting when the Lions were out of playoff contention or facing an insurmountable loss. He played a few games in the 1994 season with the L.A. Raiders, then signed in 1995 with the Jacksonville Jaguars only to be cut before the season started. Ware’s tale is a common one: College star with loads of potential that’s just never given a chance to prove himself.
Danny Wuerffel: Quarterback Danny Wuerffel was a high school football star who continued his rise to fame at the University of Florida from 1993-1996. Wuerffel led the Gators to four straight SEC victories as well as a 1997 Sugar Bowl appearance in which they slaughtered Florida State 52-20. In addition to the Heisman, Wuerffel won the William Campbell Trophy for academic and athletic performance, making him the only athlete to ever win both. He ended his time at Florida having thrown for 10,875 yards with 114 touchdown passes. After that, well, he fizzled in the most disappointing way: Nothing really happened. He played with the New Orleans Saints before a brief time with the Rhein Fire (part of NFL Europe), then bounced from the Packers to the Bears to the Redskins, rounding out five teams in six years. He’s since moved into non-profit work.
Gino Torretta: Gino Toretta played QB for the University of Miami for the 1989-1992 season, during which time won the 1991 Cotton Bowl and the 1989 and ’92 Orange Bowls. He won a slew of awards, including the Heisman (which is starting to feel like the kiss of death for players who turn pro), leading his time to an impressive winning streak. Yet for all his power and potential, Toretta didn’t go until the seventh round of the 1993 NFL Draft, when he was chosen by the Minnesota Vikings. However, he didn’t play a single game that season, and he moved to the Detroit Lions for 1994. History repeated itself: He didn’t play at all. He played one NFL game, in 1996, when he was with the Seattle Seahawks and finally got off the bench in a season-ending game against the Oakland Raiders. He threw a touchdown pass right away, but it was too little, way too late. He retired after spending 1997 on a pair of rosters but not playing. He’s in the private sector now, which is such a loss.
Christian Laettner: Here’s another textbook case of glory gone to seed. Christian Laettner was such a god at Duke that his number, 32, has since been retired. He started in four consecutive Final Four matches, and played on NCAA championship teams in 1991 and 1992. He was lauded for his performance in the 1992 East regional final in the NCAA tournament against Kentucky, when he nailed a last-second jumper to secure the win. And as if that wasn’t enough, he was the only college player on the Dream Team, the classic 1992 USA Olympic basketball team that included Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Larry Bird, and was so good it should’ve been illegal. After that? You know the drill: Plenty of sizzle, but no steak. He joined the Timberwolves in the 1992 NBA Draft and eventually bounced among seven teams in a 13-year career. His game just never got off the ground. He was suspended briefly in 2003 for drug use. He’s now in investment and development.
Tony Mandarich: Offensive tackle Tony Mandarich had an impressive career at Michigan State, earning recognition twice as one of the Big Ten Linemen of the Year as well as being named first-team All-American. He played on the team when they won the 1988 Rose Bowl against USC. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated before being drafted by the Green Bay Packers, but performance and attitude issues meant he was cut after three seasons. He returned for three seasons (1996-1998) with the Indianapolis Colts, after which he hung up his cleats for good. SI had once labeled him "The Incredible Bulk" (the guy was massive), but later changed it to "The Incredible Bust."
Danny Manning: Power forward Danny Manning was one of the most-loved University of Kansas basketball players of all time. He helped lead the team to a 1986 Final Four berth and a 1988 NCAA championship and became the school’s all-time leader in scoring and rebounds. The 1988 team was dubbed "Danny and the Miracles" for their impressive comeback from possible elimination to win the tournament. He was All-American, twice, and later named Big Eight Player of the Decade. That’s amazing no matter who you root for. Yet a series of injuries and knee surgeries meant that his NBA career suffered, and he eventually had to downgrade to part-time player status. His career was spent sliding among different teams, and his remarkable college performances were never repeated.
Matt Leinart: Quarterback Matt Leinart was worshipped by USC fans for his leadership of the Trojans to victory at the 2004 Rose Bowl and 2005 Orange Bowl. They also went to the 2006 Orange Bowl, narrowly losing to Texas. He won the Heisman, the Manning, and the Archie Griffin Award (twice). He was twice voted the NCAA’s QB of the Year. He left USC as the school’s all-time leader in several areas, including touchdown passes and completion percentage. He’s basically carved out of wood. However, a series of injuries and missteps meant his career with the Arizona Cardinals would be markedly different from his college days. His first two seasons were cut short because of injuries, and though he regained his starter position for his third season, poor preseason performance meant he had to cede the spot to Kurt Warner, who led the Cardinals to their first NFC title in 2008. His Arizona time has remained unremarkable, though he was named as starter again when Warner retired in January 2010. Maybe he can turn things around.
Jason White: Quarterback Jason White made a name for himself at the University of Oklahoma, where he played from 2000-2004. He started multiple times in 2001, played strong in 2002 despite an injury early on, and won the Heisman in 2003, throwing 40 touchdown passes. Critics pretty much loved the guy. He took the Sooners to the Big 12 championship game in ’03, though they lost. In 2004, he was a finalist for the Heisman again and also won his second straight Davey O’Brien Award. He ended his Oklahoma career as the school’s leader in all-time passing yards and touchdown passes (with 8,012 and 81, respectively). So what happened? Nothing at all, really, and I mean nothing: White wasn’t chosen in the 2005 NFL Draft, and no team offered him a tryout. The Tennessee Titans signed him in 2005, but White quit, blaming poor knees. That’s the whole thing. He fizzled so completely that he never made it to the pros at all.

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