Being named to a preseason award watch list is one thing. It’s a cool honor. Being named a semi-finalist? That’s another. Being named a semi-finalist for two major awards despite missing the first two games of the season??? That’s elite.
Following yet another standout performance, junior inside linebacker Leo Chenal has been named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award and the Bednarik Award.
HE-WHOOO!— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) November 1, 2021
Our guy is a Butkus Award semifinalist! pic.twitter.com/kU4iAfJNAL
The Butkus Award, named in honor of Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus, is presented annually to the best linebacker in the country by the Butkus Foundation. It is widely regarded as the top individual honor given to a linebacker. Notable past winners include Brian Bosworth (Oklahoma - 1985, 1986), Von Miller (Texas A&M - 2010), Luke Kuechly (Boston College - 2011) and Manti Te’o (Notre Dame - 2012). Other Big Ten nominees include Jack Campbell (Iowa), Olakunle Fatukasi (Rutgers) and Brandon Smith (Penn State).
The Bednarik Award is presented annually to the top defensive player in college football as judged by the Maxwell Football Club. Notable past winners include Charles Woodson (Michigan - 1997), Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh - 2013) and Chase Young (Ohio State - 2019). Aidan Hutchinson (DE - Michigan), George Karlaftis (DE - Purdue) and Jaquan Brisker (S - Penn State) were named semi-finalists as well.
Since returning to the Badger defense, after missing the first two games of the season, Chenal has been on an absolute tear. Despite only playing in six games, he leads the Badgers in tackles (60) and tackles for loss (11.5). He has already set a career high with 5.5 sacks on the year, 3.5 of which came on the road at Purdue earning him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors for the first time in his career.
Prior to the Iowa game, Chenal was the highest-graded linebacker in the nation according to PFF College.
If Chenal keeps this up, the awards will come. It is not crazy to think that despite missing multiple games, an All-American selection is not entirely out of the question. He’s the anchor of the top defense in the Big Ten and top-five defense in the country.
Chenal looks to continue his incredible season when the Badgers take on Rutgers this Saturday in New Jersey searching for their fifth straight win.