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Leonhard: Big Cheese in Wis. but No Packers Fan

Posted by Eric Allen on October 26, 2010 – 4:15 pm

Jim Leonhard might have grown up in Tony, Wis., but the veteran Jets safety never had any Packers fever.

“I was never a big Green Bay fan,” he told me this week during a taping of “Four Quarters.” “My parents were, so I gave them grief growing up.”

You can get from Tony, a small town 200 miles northwest of the Packers’ home, to Lambeau Field in less than 3½ hours by car. However during his childhood, Leonhard idolized a 5’8” running back who happened to be employed in the Motor City.

Wisconsin, he said, is “a huge football state with very dedicated, passionate fans, which is great for an organization. It was fun growing up and seeing the history of the great players and they had some very exciting games,” Leonhard said of the Pack. “I had to cheer against them — I was a big Barry Sanders fan. I was a Detroit fan.”

Late Sunday afternoon, Leonhard hopes that most of Wisconsin will be mourning a loss by their favorite pro sports team after the Jets and the Packers battle. This will be the second time Leonhard, a six-year veteran, will face the Packers and the first time as a Jet and a defensive regular.

“I have a lot of family and friends that are torn who to cheer for this week. It will be fun and hopefully we get a win,” he said. “Then I’ll have bragging rights for an entire year. I’m looking forward to it. Even though I was never a Green Bay fan, just knowing the history of that franchise, it would be big to get a win this week.”

The 5’8”, 186-pound Leonhard returned to Tony during the bye week to watch his younger brother, Tyler, play his last regular high school game at Flambeau High School. It was the first time Jim had seen his brother play a high school game in person as Tyler lined up at QB and S just like Jimmy did in high school.

A two-time captain at Flambeau, Leonhard captained his HS team as both a junior and a senior. He earned team MVP honors as a senior after collecting eight interceptions and 120 tackles before walking on at Wisconsin.

“Growing up in a small town with just over 100 people — the high school is made up of a bunch of different communities that come together to make the high school,” he said of Flambeau. “If I played in front of 2,000 or 2,500 people, that was a huge sellout, a standing-room-only game.

“Going from that and to Madison and playing in front of 75, 80 thousand every week in the Big Ten was a huge adjustment. But it was great, having to walk on, having a great experience and finally getting a scholarship after a couple of years. It was a lot of fun. I have some great memories at Wisconsin as well and some pretty good teams. Going to Wisconsin, my friends and family were huge Badger fans, so a lot of people got involved in my career and I had a lot of support.”

Leonhard, still giddy over the Badgers’ big road upset over the Iowa Hawkeyes last Saturday, was one of the most productive players in the history of the UW program. His 21 interceptions tied a school record while ranking fourth-best in Big Ten history, and his 1,347 punt-return yards (three of his returns went for touchdowns) also established a conference mark.

“I got experience as a freshman, played special teams and didn’t redshirt. I made a few plays and then for the first time in my life — growing up a three-sport guy in high school — I got to focus on football year-round,” he said. “Going to spring ball and focusing on football 12 months a year really took my game to the next level. I ended up starting my next three years and having a very productive career. It was great, it really was fun. I have a lot of memories. A fun university. There is a lot more outside of football that you’ll remember and I had a great time and met a lot of great people.”

A well-known name throughout Wisconsin, Leonhard is a giant in tiny Tony. According to city-data.com, Tony had a registered population of 88 in July of 2009 (it was 105, according to the 2000 Census). And when you enter, there’s that famous sign that reads “Hometown of Jimmy Leonhard” and “Walk-On to All-American.”

“I have a lot of pride and a lot of support in my hometown and people love to say they know me or they grew up from where I’m from. It’s fun to get back and just see the reception you get. I try to get back as much as possible,” he said. “It is a little weird. When I see that sign, it’s like, I’m not that important. But you see the effect you have on people, especially kids, and you can’t help but be proud and enjoy giving back to the community.”

Leonhard knows loyalties will be divided in many Wisconsin households on Halloween. So Jimmy’s wife, Katie, has designed a specialty T-shirt that reads “Green Bay Fan By Birth” and “Jim Leonhard Fan By Choice” that can be found at jimleonhardfootball.com. Leonhard loves where he’s from, but he’s never been a fan of the Packers and that won’t change this weekend.

Jets vs. Packers Game Release

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Posted in Eric Allen | 22 Comments »

22 Responses to “Leonhard: Big Cheese in Wis. but No Packers Fan”

  1. By scjoe on Oct 26, 2010 | Reply

    I was a Leonard fan when he was in Balt. I know some out there question his ability on the field, I would say to you look closer. If this guy were two inches taller and ten pounds heavier he would have been a terror, but he is fine as is. Randy, i’m trying to keep up here, Mauga was promoted to the active roster (as I predicted) in place of Cummings, then, Howard was waived, in less I missed something they are still down one player on the active roster, any update on that?

  2. By Randy Lange on Oct 26, 2010 | Reply

    scjoe, no update today. Probably tomorrow.

  3. By wayne on Oct 26, 2010 | Reply

    I was very impressed watching this guy fly around and make plays in Bmore. Was also impressed with how that staff could pickup a FAs and turn them into playmakers…I know some are already booking SB trip to play the Giants….Who has the edge?.The Giants..Starting with the QB position…Sanchez has lots of growing to do. Young QBs in Tampa and St Loo doing more with far less.And he should have more than 2 ints.Giants’ big edge: 4 man passrush.If theyre back to SB level Sanchez has no chance.Ask Tom Brady.

  4. By wayne on Oct 26, 2010 | Reply

    Oh, before they get to the SB, there are the Steelers, Ravens, and I’ve said it more than once before and I’ll say it again, the Pats aren’t going away. They’ve gone back to the formula that got them their SB wins(minus video cam).Then there’s Peyton….This team will have to fix its passrush to have any realistic shot a SB…Seasoned SB tested QBs arent laying down for them so they better put them on their backs to have any shot.

  5. By Jack's Tattoos on Oct 26, 2010 | Reply

    leonhard is a great pick-up for this team. He’s a masher you need in the secondary.

  6. By Jets Fan Since '64 Tom on Oct 26, 2010 | Reply

    I love Leonhard’s attitude, brains, and tackling, scjoe, but I don’t love the way he drops interceptions thrown right to him or the way teams seem to be picking on him more this year by matching him up with taller WRs and TEs.

  7. By Doug aka BIGD on Oct 26, 2010 | Reply

    leonard is worth his weight in gold from teachin the D to just playin smart!

  8. By Ryan Davis on Oct 26, 2010 | Reply

    Hey Jimmy. I used to play u in ..well every sport. From new auburn . Just wanted to say good luck in Sundays game. I my self am a sanders fan always have been. That’s great what u do for tony. Keep up the great job wait to watch u pick Rodgers like a jr high QB. Haha go JETS!!! AND DET!

  9. By Ray on Oct 27, 2010 | Reply

    This was possibly the best acquisition Rex made when he came here. In reality he has no business being in the NFL. Just hard work, heart and total disregard for his body has let him achieve way more than most of us could only dream of. Is he a perfect safety…..no. Does he have shortcomings…. clearly. But Leonhard isn’t meant to be the main guy back there. He is far more effective when he has a dominant FS playing next to him. Pool needs to step up his game in the 2nd half BIG TIME! A play here or there isn’t cutting it.

  10. By IRA on Oct 27, 2010 | Reply

    I think Leonhard is to the Jets what Chrebet was to the Jets in many ways. I am giving Leonhard the nickname Nails. This kid is tough as nails just go back to last year when he missed no time after his hand surgery and played with that club. Give me 22 players with his heart and we will be at the Super Bowl every year. I am still amazed that he can dunk a basketball and he is on;y 5″8″. Great athlete and a super kid.Got to get one of those T-shirts.

  11. By Mike Jet Vet on Oct 27, 2010 | Reply

    Agreed with all said about J-Leonhard he plays with pure tenacity and guts ..yes he gets beat once in awhile not the fastest not the tallest hes just a great football player and one of the main reasons I get so animated and flustered about players looking for publicity shoots commercials and big paydays without guys like Leonhard B-Smith and D-Keller L-T gos without saying are the unsung heroes of this team and make this game what I became to love about football.. What those guys are doing with greed and selfishness is what I’m becoming to hate about football I for one like it the way it was GO JETS SACK THE PACK

  12. By Matt on Oct 27, 2010 | Reply

    wayne, stop taking the pont of the article, which was Jim Leonhard and the Packers, by posting absolute nonsense. Yes I agree the Jets have some work to do despite the 5-1 record, but which team doesn’t? The Giants are in a Conference that thusfar is an absolute joke. The Jets by far have more obstacles than the Giants and if it were to in fact come to the Jets vs. Giants in the SB, the experience the Jets would get would far surpass that which the Giants can post against them. By the way, get off of our website Giants fans!

  13. By THUNDER LIPS on Oct 27, 2010 | Reply


    How many reps was Howard Green getting since he was resigned? I am very curious as to Rex/Pettiine’s plan to replace him. I noticed that I am not the only one as there are a few other posts commenting on Green’s release.

  14. By Randy Lange on Oct 27, 2010 | Reply

    Thunder Lips, I don’t have the number of snaps Howard Green received, but it wasn’t a lot. He played in two games and was inactive in two others this season with one tackle, one QB hit and one forced fumble, all coming in Game 3 at Miami.

  15. By Gmany3k on Oct 27, 2010 | Reply

    Just who can beat Jim out of the starting line up ? Jim is right there with B Smith.

  16. By GaryC on Oct 27, 2010 | Reply

    Where is Zac Potter.we seem like we are grasping at straws to find defensive line depth. I thought he played well a couple years ago before jets cut him.It can’t hurt.

  17. By scjoe on Oct 27, 2010 | Reply

    64tom, sure, Leonard has dropped an INT or two, that is part of the game, after all, how many INTs have we as Jets fans seen dropped thrown by Sanchez? As for him being matched up against taller WRs? Some of that needs to be addressed in the defensive play calling, there has to be adjustments within the calls that should account for that not to happen, not always of course, but to the point where it is not an ongoing problem, which it isn’t! By the way 64tom, how bout my Giants in the WS for the first time since 2002? It just may be 1954 revisited.

  18. By Kelly Richards on Oct 27, 2010 | Reply

    Good luck Mr Jim and Mrs Katie. Go Jets!! My grandma is a Packers fan but not me! Your friend, Kelly R., Jacksonville, Florida

  19. By Jets Fan Since '64 Tom on Oct 27, 2010 | Reply

    Gotta admit, scjoe, I was pulling for the Giants to get in and I’d like to see ‘em win it all, that would be a refreshing change from the teams that just break the bank to win it, like one in New York that I used to root for a lot more seriously. And yeah, I don’t want to see Leonhard on the likes of Heep again, try as he does to battle these guys. The dropped picks issue is a big one for me because we talk a lot about the D making plays but you gotta have better hands than most of our DBs seem to in order to do that. You’ll recall Revis dropped a few last year, too. Cromartie seems to be the best at catching ‘em.

  20. By carl on Oct 27, 2010 | Reply

    I love the article Randy! Jim Leonard plays with so much heart!My kid is 12 and plays free safety. I always use Jim as player he should copy!!!GOJETS!!!!!!

  21. By Brenda Izzo on Oct 28, 2010 | Reply

    My girlfriends and I are huge Jim Leonhard fans. Such talent and such heart!

  22. By Row on Oct 30, 2010 | Reply

    I think Leonhard is a good signal caller, big hearted guy that plays his game. He’s not a guy that has picked off a lot of passes. He’s on pace for like 100 tackles this year which is amazing! The big problem is he provides no safety help for his corners. I don’t know if it’s scheme or what, but he’s rarely ever made a hit near the end zone to save a corner. I can remember numerous big gain catches in the middle of the field and deep where he was no where to be found. We are expecting too much from him. I think he should hang in there on first and second down, and we should have a guy like Digs be out there to take someone’s head off on third. Like I said, there are no undersized players in the NFL. Jim is a perfect example of that. Go Jets

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