BILLINGS, Mont. -- A federal judge Wednesday sentenced former NFL player Travis Henry to three years in prison for financing a drug ring that moved cocaine between Colorado and Montana.
Henry, 30, of Frostproof, Fla., was arrested by federal drug agents last October -- just a few months after the running back's release from the Denver Broncos.
He pleaded guilty in April to a single count of conspiracy to traffic cocaine. In handing down Wednesday's sentence, U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull in Billings also gave Henry five years of probation and recommended he enter a 500-hour drug treatment program.
Completion of the treatment program could knock off up to a year from Henry's sentence. His attorney, Harvey Steinberg, said that with additional time off for good behavior Henry could be out of prison within 16 months.
Henry has said that at the time of his arrest, he was struggling to keep up with child support payments after fathering at least nine children with nine women. But Cebull said it was Henry's addiction to marijuana that destroyed the his career and ultimately landed him in federal court.
"This is a unique case in that you're a unique individual. You're a heck of a football player," Cebull said. "You are not unique in this sense: your drug habit."
Cebull and the defense described Henry as a minor player in the Denver cocaine ring and said he had been ensnared in the conspiracy by a friend.
Clad in a blue prison jumpsuit and wearing handcuffs, Henry apologized to the court and said his criminal actions did not reflect his true self.
"If given the chance, I want to tell kids around the world that using drugs and abusing drugs isn't the way," he said.
He had faced a possible 10 years to life in prison and a $4 million fine. Cebull waived the fine because he said Henry could not afford it.
Henry rose from a childhood of poverty -- his single mother picked oranges for a living -- to become a record setting running back at the University of Tennessee.
He was drafted into the NFL in 2001 and joined the Broncos in 2007. His descent from the pinnacle of professional sports to federal inmate took just 13 months, beginning with his release last June from the Broncos.
One season into a four-year, $22.5 million contract, Henry was cut following allegations of drug use and a perceived lack of commitment.
His income gone, Henry turned to the drug trade in part to cover mounting child support payments, according to court documents and testimony.
That criminal career proved brief.
A driver moving cocaine for Henry from Denver to Billings agreed to turn federal informant after being arrested last September. That person later helped authorities set up a sting operation against Henry and his co-defendant, James Mack.
Two weeks later, as Henry was leaving a Denver-area apartment with 6 kilograms of cocaine, the authorities moved in. Henry attempted to run, but was chased down and caught after a short pursuit.
Defense attorney Steinberg had asked for leniency and said Henry turned to cocaine trafficking out of desperation. He said Henry went into a "downward spiral" after losing $40,000 in drug proceeds that were stolen from a house in Billings.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thaggard argued for a sentence of at least 33 months.
"Mr. Henry did have it all, in a sense, and he lost it. That's unfortunate," Thaggard said. "The bottom line is this was a significant conspiracy to move a substantial quantity of drugs."
Following his arrest, Henry initially was released on $400,000 bond. He was jailed after being arrested again in Florida in May, for violating the terms of his release by drinking alcohol.
Sentencing for Mack, of Bow Mar, Colo. is set for July 24.