This is the ninth of 10 posts revealing the Wisconsin Badgers' 10 nominees for possible induction into SBN Wisconsin's Hall of Fame. The nominees are revealed in order of most votes from the B5Q readership.
Jim Leonhard was arguably the most popular player in Wisconsin football history. There was a lot to like about "Jimmy". For one, he was a walk-on. He was Wisconsin's "Rudy."
The kid didn't receive a single Division I-A scholarship offer and wasn't given one at Wisconsin until his senior season, despite starting at free safety during his junior year. When he left Wisconsin, Leonhard was the Big Ten's all-time leader in punt return yards, a remarkable accomplishment for a walk-on player who only had a scholarship for one year. He also holds UW's all-time interception record (21) along with Jamar Fletcher.
Leonhard's "cinderella story" didn't end following his college career like it has for so many other successful walk-ons. In fact, it started all over again. After going undrafted in the 2005 NFL Draft, he signed with the Buffalo Bills and did exactly what he did at Wisconsin: earn his playing time.
Just like in college, Leonhard had to overcome a lack of size. This resulted in him not getting a lot of playing time early. In his first two seasons, Leonhard played in 25 games, but only started one of them. In 2007, he was sixth on the team in tackles, despite battling injuries. When he became a free agent in 2008, he moved to Baltimore where he started 13 of 16 games. After the season, he followed Rex Ryan to New York and signed with the Jets where he immediately became the regular starting safety.
Leonhard joins Barry Alvarez, Ron Dayne, Bo Ryan, Pat Richter, Alan Ameche, Joe Thomas, Chris Chelios, Michael Finley and one other Badger yet to be named on the SBN Wisconsin Hall of Fame ballot. Ten nominees each from the Green Bay Packers, Milwaukee Brewers, Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette Golden Eagles will also be featured on the ballot. Once again, all voting will be done by SBNation readers.