Todd Marinovich calls it the lowest point in his life.
The 48-year-old former football star says he was in a drug- and alcohol-induced blackout when police found him nude in a stranger's backyard in Irvine last August, holding a brown bag with methamphetamine, syringes and his wallet.
He pleaded guilty last month to five misdemeanors and was sentenced to rehab and probation. If he completes six months of outpatient rehab, the judge says he won't have to serve jail time.
"If you were to look up 'rude awakening,' that was my experience with the Irvine Police Department," he said, with a chuckle. "It was the most humiliating thing. But thank God for it. I feel so grateful I was arrested, because who knows what would have transpired."
Once an Orange County high school football prodigy, Marinovich led USC to a Rose Bowl win in 1990 and later became a starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Raiders before drug abuse derailed his NFL career. His arrests and struggles with drug addiction have been well-documented.
Marinovich admitted he has been to rehab "countless" times _ but this time, he said, he feels different.
Nine months into recovery, a healthy-looking Marinovich sat down on a bench outside a Starbucks in Irvine to talk about sobriety and why he's now ready to heal.
Marinovich said the past six months have been some of the best in his life. He moved to Palm Desert and now splits time between there and his mother Trudi's home in Irvine.
He coaches a youth football league called the SoCal Coyotes and has teamed up with the Riverside District Attorney's Office for speaking engagements at high schools and juvenile halls, where he warns teenagers about the dangers of drug addiction. An avid artist, he's also started painting again and hopes to craft a mural on the drab walls at a juvenile hall in Riverside County.
He recently accepted an invitation from Mike Darnold, the grandfather of current USC star quarterback Sam Darnold and a Dana Point city employee, to speak to the football team at Dana Hills High School, where he addressed the epidemic of opioid overdoses in South County.
"Forget football," Marinovich told the team. "You'll be lucky to escape with your life."
Phil Skinner, Dana Hills' head coach, said Marinovich emphasized to the students that all actions have consequences.
"He was very honest and open with the kids about exactly what he has done, where he has been — the good and bad," Skinner said. "I think he did an amazing job."
Marinovich said he feels lucky to have another chance at rebuilding relationships. His top priorities are his son, Baron, 7, and daughter, Coski, 5. Marinovich is separated from their mother, Alix.
In the past, Marinovich said, he was always pushed into rehab facilities by sports teams or by family members. When his children were born, he made the decision on his own to go, and still he struggled.
This time in recovery, Marinovich said, he's focused not only on physical sobriety but emotional sobriety.
"Up until last year, I have never really treated my illness — it took a humiliating experience and a feeling of complete self-loathing, and only then was I finally willing to do the things necessary for recovery," he said.
Emotional sobriety, he said, means learning to be comfortable in your own skin and delving deep into personal issues. It also means surrendering.
"I've stopped fighting everybody and everything, I was one of the most defiant people on the planet," he said. "On self-reflection, where did that actually get me? It didn't help me out in any positive way."
In the 1980s, Marinovich rose to athletic prominence at Mater Dei High School and later at Capistrano Valley High School.
Nicknamed Robo Quarterback and the Nation's First Test Tube Athlete by sports outlets, Marinovich's strict upbringing by his father, Marv, made national news. Marv Marinovich, whose own NFL dreams were cut short by injury, brought up his son on a rigid diet and extreme exercise program designed to create the perfect athlete.
Marinovich doesn't place all of his issues on his strict childhood and credits his dad for giving him a strong work ethic. But still, he said, growing up with a controlling father was tough.
"It was living under a dictator," he said. "Without a doubt, he loved me and he did the best he could, but I didn't need a coach when I was eight, I needed a father."
Marinovich said he's extremely close with his father and lives with and coaches alongside him in Palm Desert.
But for his own children, he said, he's learned to let them make decisions for themselves.
Marinovich is supportive if his children ever want to pursue sports, but for now, he's happy simply playing handball with his son.
Marinovich's friend and counselor, Billy Giorgi, whom he met in rehab about two years ago, notes that recovery is a journey and many recovering addicts, such as Marinovich, relapse at some point. Giorgi said in the past nine months he's seen a change that he hopes is permanent.
"This time I sense a little more humility from him and willingness to dig a little deeper," Giorgi said.
As for the future, Marinovich said he'll continue coaching kids and will go to some USC games in person and root for the Raiders. On Saturday, he plans to attend USC's spring training practice.
He also hopes to avoid negative headlines.
"In a sense, my struggle with drugs and alcohol is not much different than other people's struggles, it's just that mine has been highly publicized," he said. "I'm just grateful that I've lived through all the trial and error, because a lot of people don't."