Badgers in the NFL: Jim Leonhard Retiring After 10 Seasons


Following a successful 10 year career in the National Football League, former Wisconsin Badger and current Cleveland Brown Jim Leonhard has decided to retire from football.

Leonhard announced his decision following the Browns season-ending game Sunday.

Leonhard, a free safety who has played 142 games while a member of five different NFL squads over his career, surprised many with his staying power in the NFL. Badgers fans weren’t surprised, however, after Leonhard came to UW without much fanfare and became a Madison star.

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A Ladysmith, Wisconsin native, Leonhard walked on at UW in 2001 following a strong high school career at Flambeau High School in Tony, Wisconsin. His humble beginnings turned into years of success, as after a true freshman 2001 season spent mostly playing special teams, he became the full-time starter at strong safety as a sophomore.

He went on to start 39 straight games to finish out his career.

In total, Leonhard played 51 games as a Badger, starting 14 games at strong safety and 25 at free safety. He also returned punts during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

In his Badger career, Leonhard had 281 total tackles, 50 passes defended and 21 interceptions, including an 11-interception sophomore campaign that led him to the first of many All-American honors from varying outlets. The 11 interceptions tied a Big Ten single-season record.

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Leonhard had 105 career punt returns for 1,347 yards and three touchdowns, as well.

Despite his success in college, Leonhard again went unnoticed at the next level, and was passed on in the 2005 NFL Draft. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Buffalo Bills, and was the only undrafted rookie to make the Bills 53-man roster.

He played in 10 games, mostly on special teams, as a rookie, but in his second year in the NFL played 15 games and made his first start. He spent one more year with the Bills before heading to the Baltimore Ravens in 2008, then spent three season with the New York Jets.

Dec 22, 2013; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills free safety Jim Leonhard (35) takes to the field before a game against the Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

His first season with the Jets – 2009 – was arguably the best of his professional career. Leonhard started all 16 games that season, recording 76 total tackles.

Leonhard played with the Jets until 2012, when he began 1-year stints with the Denver Broncos, a second stint with the Bills in 2013, and finished his career this year in Cleveland.

Leonhard retires with 329 total tackles in his 10-year career. He has also returned 108 punts for 998 yards.

Leonhard’s NFL career will be remembered as a successful one, especially by Badgers fans who remember the walk-on rising to stardom on the turf at Camp Randall.

Before his last game, Leonhard spoke to the media at Browns practice Friday and said he expected Sunday’s game would be his last, despite head coach Mike Pettine saying Leonhard would likely make his decision in the offseason.

"“I’m very happy with my decision and I’m looking forward to that next chapter.”"

He also alluded to an opportunity in Madison, which has led to rumors that a spot on new Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst’s staff could belong to the Wisconsin Alumnus.

"“I definitely want to get out and travel a little bit with the family. Outside of that, head back to Madison (Wisc.) and figure it out. I had a lot of conversations with people and we’ll see what happens, where this thing leads.”"

Badgers fans would love to see Leonhard back in the program, and his success as a walk-on would be great for recruiting.

As his professional career came to an end Sunday, Leonhard was given one last honor before he took the field for the final time:

College stats courtesy NFL stats courtesy

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