Wisconsin Football Countdown: No. 18, Jim Leonhard


As the countdown to the first Wisconsin football game of the season continues, Badger of Honor is taking a look at Badgers by the numbers, checking in on a different Badger or Badgers players who wore the number corresponding with the remaining days until the Badgers head to Texas to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide Saturday, Sept. 5.

Next up in our countdown, signifying 18 days until college football is back, is Jim Leonhard.

Leonhard — the ultimate walk-on — was on campus at UW from 2001-2004, and went from a walk-on out of Tony, Wisconsin to one of the best Badgers defensive backs in school history.

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Wisconsin Badgers /

Wisconsin Badgers

Leonhard didn’t earn a scholarship at UW until his senior season, despite being a starter as a sophomore and a junior.

Over the course of his four-year career, Leonhard set numerous records both in the defensive back field and return game.

When he left UW, he held punt return yardage records for a single season — 470 yards in 2003 — and career — 1,347 yards. He also held the record for most punt returns in a career with 105. He averaged 12.8 yards per return over the course of his career, and returned three punts for touchdowns at UW.

He also set a single-season record with 11 interceptions in 2002 (also had seven interceptions in 2003), and tied Jamar Fletcher‘s career record of 21 interceptions as a Badgers player. Leonhard also tied Mike Echols‘ single-season record of 25 passes defended.

In 2002 he led all of college football with 0.79 interceptions per game. He led the Big Ten in that category in both 2002 and 2003.

He totaled 281 tackles during his time at UW, the 21st-best total in school history at the time of his graduation. When he graduated, his 180 career solo tackles were the 13th best mark in school history. He was the Badgers leading tackler in both 2003 and 2004.

Leonhard is fourth all-time at UW with 50 career passes defended, and is tied with Jack Ikegwuonu at fourth all-time at UW with 29 career passes deflected.

He was a semi-finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s best defensive back in 2004, and was a Lott IMPACT Award finalist the same year for the award given to the defensive who has the biggest impact on and off the field. He was also a 2004 finalist for the Draddy Award, or the “Academic Heisman.”

He earned some sort of All-American status each year from 2002-2004, and was a first-team All-Big Ten defensive back those same three years.

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He was Wisconsin’s team MVP in 2002, the Badgers special teams player of the year in both 2002 and 2003, and a team captain in both 2003 and 2004.

Leonhard was voted onto the All-Alvarez team in 2005.

Like his entry into college football, Leonhard was passed over by every team and went undrafted in the 2005 NFL Draft. He was signed by the Buffalo Bills, and put together a 10-year NFL career with the Bills, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints, and the Cleveland Browns.

He finished his NFL career with 428 tackles, 36 pass deflections, 14 interceptions, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 1,277 total return yards.

Leonhard retired after last season.

Who wore No. 18 first?

• Quarterback Frank Cuisiner was the first Badgers player to wear no. 18 back in 1928.

Who wears No. 18 now?

• No Badgers player currently wears No. 18.

Who wore No. 18 last?

• Senior wide receiver Lance Baretz was the last Badgers player to wear No. 18 in 2014.

Stay tuned to Badger of Honor as we continue our daily countdown in preparation of the season opener against Alabama.

Next: Wisconsin Football Experience

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