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Originally published October 12, 2010 at 8:34 PM | Page modified October 12, 2010 at 8:44 PM

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In Sports Illustrated report, ex-agent says he paid Ryan Leaf, other Cougars

In a story titled "Confessions of an Agent," Josh Luchs says he paid dozens of college players in violation of NCAA rules.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Arizona at Washington State, 4:30 p.m., Versus

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Ryan Leaf, the centerpiece of Washington State's 1997 Rose Bowl team, and four other former WSU players received cash while still playing for the Cougars in the 1990s, an ex-agent alleges in a first-person story published this week in Sports Illustrated.

In a story titled "Confessions of an Agent," Josh Luchs says he paid dozens of college players in violation of NCAA rules. He calls Leaf the "whale," a reference to his desire to land a big-time player who would launch his career as an agent, something he says he began in 1990 at age 20.

Luchs says he gave Leaf more than $10,000 in regular payments of $500 and said Leaf, unlike most of the players he courted, repaid most of the money after he signed with the San Diego Chargers in 1998. But by then Leaf had chosen super-agent Leigh Steinberg to represent him, after, Luchs says, Leaf told him and Luchs' dying father "Josh doesn't need to recruit any other players. He's got me."

The other ex-WSU players named are the late Leon Bender, a key member of the defensive line on that Rose Bowl team, and three defensive backs from 1991-94 — Torey Hunter, Singor Mobley and John Rushing.

While the allegations constitute NCAA violations, a spokeswoman cited a four-year statute of limitations on most transgressions.

The magazine said Leaf, when contacted, didn't address specifics but remembered Luchs "as an old hometown friend of one or two of my teammates, and we all hung out a bit. I don't remember him aspiring to be an agent. We were all about the same age and we were all interested in having a good time more than anything else."

Later, Leaf released a second statement through the fan website Cougfan.com, saying: "He was a friend of a friend who liked to pick up the tab. We were just kids having fun. Of course, now, as an adult, it's clear that even talking with him was a very stupid thing to do, let alone going on spring break to Las Vegas."

Luchs details a trip he arranged with Leaf to Las Vegas, and says at the last minute, Leaf was joined by two other WSU quarterbacks, Steve Birnbaum (1996-99) and Dave Muir (1997). Luchs says the relationship with Leaf soured with the addition of the two lesser players because Luchs felt he was being taken advantage of financially.

"Much of what I read in Josh's reflections was news to me," Leaf's statement continued, "bordering on bizarre in some spots. Bottom line, though, I clearly shouldn't have been anywhere near Josh ... "

Muir, interviewed by KJR radio, confirmed the Las Vegas trip, but disputed that Leaf could have been receiving the reported $500-a-month payments from Luchs, saying, "I lived with Ryan, and Ryan never had any kind of money like that."

Hunter and Rushing did not respond to requests by the Times for comment. The magazine says Mobley confirmed that he received money or extra benefits, while it says Hunter, now on the staff at Eastern Washington, denies receiving money.

Mike Price, coach at Texas-El Paso who coached all of the former Cougars named in the story, told the Times of the allegations, "I find that very, very hard to believe. Ryan (Leaf) was never really courted by anybody that wasn't very, very responsible and a top-notch agent.

"And those other guys (Bender excluded), they weren't that highly draftable. It's news to me."

The most visible player in the Hunter-Mobley-Rushing years was quarterback Drew Bledsoe. But Bledsoe's father, Mac, told the Times on Tuesday that he had never heard of Luchs, saying he told his son to funnel agent matters through him.

"I don't think anybody ever contacted Drew inappropriately," Mac Bledsoe said. "Every single person we looked at to represent Drew, they were all really fine people."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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