Falcons' Wire working hard -- and through pain -- to keep NFL dream alive
By Steve Wyche | NFL.com
By Eric Allen
If you were to make a highlight video of Jim Leonhard, you might want to include some John Mellencamp music to accompany the visuals. After all, Leonhard is a small-town boy who was often overlooked and yet managed to cash in on many of his crazy dreams.
Leonhard, the 5’8”, 186-pound safety who is set to begin his fifth NFL training camp and first summer with the Green & White, has not forgotten where he came from. Last month he hosted his second Football Skills Camp at Flambeau High School in Tony, Wis.
“The biggest thing for me is trying to get the kids things that they can actually use,” Leonhard told newyorkjets.com. “They go to a three-day camp, wherever it is, and they get a lot of different drills and they hear coaches say a lot of certain things. But unless they can actually retain it and use it for themselves after those three days are over, it’s kind of like a babysitting camp.
“So I try to keep it very simple, going over and over what I think is important for high school athletes to know and to be able to use.”
Big Fish, Small Pond
Before walking on to the University of Wisconsin football team, Leonhard captained Flambeau HS his junior and season seasons and earned all-state honors twice. He became a football star in Tony, a town with little more than 100 inhabitants and little in the form of camp offerings.
“There was nothing. The colleges will have their football camps, but there was nothing where there were professional athletes or just nothing like that in the area,” he said. “You really had to go out and find it and seek it if you were that age group or looking for a camp like that. This camp brings something to the area that I know they need and I think it’s very beneficial for both the kids and the coaches.”
Always searching for ways to improve the camp, Leonhard was assisted this year by Seahawks FB Owen Schmitt, a couple of his former Badgers teammates, and his brother, a fitness instructor. And while Leonhard had 70 high school players participating, he also emphasized the time he spent with the 15 high school coaches in northern Wisconsin.
“After the first day is when I’ll sit down for however long the coaches want to stay, essentially, and we’ll watch film and just talk football. If they have any questions or if there is anything they want me to draw up or look at, I’ll talk to them,” he said.
“The second day is kind of the same format, but instead we’ll just have a barbeque for the coaches and just get all those coaches bouncing ideas off of each other and just talking football. It’s rare just to get that many coaches together in one setting at the same time to just talk football and I think the coaches really appreciate that side of the camp.”
Leonhard, an undrafted free agent who played three seasons with the Buffalo Bills, experienced his pro breakthrough last season under Rex Ryan in Baltimore. Even though he’s a tremendous athlete, Leonhard will probably never receive proper credit for his physical traits.
“You get categorized as one thing and it kind of sticks with you forever and that was me,” he said. “I was the undersized kid, really smart and athletically so-so, one of those he-can-get-the-job-done-for-you kind of guys.
“The NFL is all about potential. You could throw on film of my sophomore year of college and you kind of knew what you were going to get already. It is tough to try to break down those kinds of stereotypes within football. The guys know it’s not true. I’m a lot better athlete than I get credit for and there are a lot of guys who are good athletes who are a lot smarter football players than you would think.”
Last season, Ravens CB Frank Walker referred to Leonhard as “White Lightning” and the nickname stuck. He made 13 regular-season starts, racking up career highs in tackles (85) and passes defensed (6) while displaying solid return ability on special teams. Then during the Ravens’ postseason run, Leonhard registered 16 tackles, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.
And after Ryan was hired by the Jets in late January, Leonhard followed the defensive mastermind up I-95 just a few weeks later. This is the third pro stop for Leonhard and he hopes to be here for a while.
“I’m excited about the team, the organization and the guys on the team, if not for me, then for my wife [Katie]. It’s always tough moving and meeting new people and trying to get settled in,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to staying in New York for a while. I think it’s going to be a great fit for both sides and I’m really looking forward to settling here in New Jersey.”
Living the Dream
With another solid season in a big market like New York, Leonhard could become a household name among small football communities nationwide. If he can succeed with the Jets, he will attract more publicity for his camp and more assistance from coaches and players alike.
“I’m really excited to see where it can go in the next couple of years and just how much better we can make it for both the kids and the coaches. I’m looking forward to the next off-season and having better stories and maybe some more playoff stories,” he said. “That would be a lot of fun. We’ll get through this season and hopefully we can keep everyone healthy and have a good run.”
When the next off-season commences, Leonhard will move back to Madison, Wis., and eventually get ready for his third annual camp in Tony. After a four-hour car ride, he’ll reach his destination and see a sign the town put up for their hometown son.
“It’s weird to go back sometimes. I have so much support there — everyone knows who I am and everyone is very, very supportive. It is humbling to see because in the moment, as I’m doing it, I’m just having a good time,” he said.
“I’m living the dream. Everyone who ever put on a helmet and pads would love to be at this level and I’m just enjoying it. It doesn’t seem like it should be that special to me, but you go back there and you realize just how important it is to those people and just how important my success is to that area.”
Training Camp has begun at SUNY Cortland!
Jets report to camp in new site with fresh outlook
By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.,
AP Sports Writer
"I had a vision for what I wanted our training camp to be and look like and the feel for it," Ryan said, "and I think this really, maybe exceeds what my expectations were."
By Andrew Richards
Offseason NFL Football News
New York also made a splash in the free-agent market by signing former Ravens, Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard to solidify their defense.
Link: Leonhard Ready for the Season
Posted on July 7th, 2009 by Bassett
Jet Safety Jim Leonhard was home in Wisconsin in late June for a football camp for kids and took time to speak with reporters from his hometown paper the Leader-Telegram. When the reporter asked Leonhard about how it felt going into the season at the pinnacle of his game, Leonhard’s answer was telling. The article chronicles his rise from anonymity to NFL starter, and only makes you want to cheer for the guy more.
“It’s really the first time at that level that I’ve kind of had that seal of approval from a head coach going into the season,” Leonhard said. “That gives you a lot of confidence. It also ups your responsibility and just your leadership on the team. I’m taking that as a challenge going into the year.”
It’s good to see that Leonhard doesn’t view the situation as ‘I have arrived’ but more as ‘how can I continue to progress?’
Schein's Nine: Eagles finally have WRs
by Adam Schein
7. The best defense in the AFC East? J-E-T-S!
And if you don't believe me, ask Jets safety Kerry Rhodes, who broadcast that statement to the world on our Sirius NFL Radio show. Actually, he thinks the Jets will have the best defense in the NFL.
Prediction: Rhodes and David Harris make the Pro Bowl for the first time. Former Eagles CB Lito Sheppard gets back to his Pro Bowl form. The Sheppard-Darrelle Revis cornerback combination proves to be elite. Former Ravens safety Jim Leonhard becomes a household name. Last year's first-round bust Vernon Gholston gets at least eight sacks. That's how good Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will be. And they know how to use Calvin Pace, who was dropping back in coverage for some reason last year. Stud DT Kris Jenkins is healthy. General manager Mike Tannenbaum loaded up this defense with talent. Now he has the head coach to maximize it.
New England has experience in its front seven, picked up CBs Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs and have the best defensive mind in football coaching the team. The Dolphins added DE Jason Taylor, S Gibril Wilson and re-upped their own key free agents. Buffalo boasts a great defensive line.
But I'll take the Jets this year with their players, coaching and a brand, new attitude.
Jim Leonhard On Brett Favre
Posted: Jul 02, 2009 11:33 PM
Madison (WQOW) -- Flambeau H.S. graduate and former Wisconsin Badger Jim Leonhard takes part in the UW Legends Golf Event at University Ridge, and shares his thoughts about Brett Favre.
Leonhard, now a member of the New York Jets, says it would have been fun to play on the same team with Favre, who was a Jet for the 2008 NFL season.
"To play with a player of that caliber," Leonhard says, "it's kind of special, just to see how they carry themselves, and see how they approach the game, you know, on a day-to-day basis, so it would have been a lot of fun. We're pleased with our quarterback situation right now, and I hope he continues to play, if that what makes him happy, it's hard to push someone away if they're not ready to quit."
TONY - It's easy for Jim Leonhard to stay grounded. When he's standing on this familiar football field, surrounded by this familiar countryside, it's impossible for Leonhard to forget where he came from.
He may now make his living in New York - pretty much the polar opposite of this setting - but he's never far from Tony, Wis.
This right here is Jim Leonhard's roots. He's Tony through and through. It shows every time he plays. And it shows even more in the grin on his face during a midday break from his annual hometown football camp.
"I've been very fortunate," Leonhard said. "I caught a lot of breaks along the way and have had some tremendous experiences in my life. Any time you come home, you think about where you came from and how much support that you've had. It is kind of humbling every time I come back."
It was about seven years ago that Leonhard put this little town of 100-some people on the map with his Hollywood-like ascension to unlikely football stardom. Using that small-town fight and work ethic that he learned in Tony and right here on the Flambeau High School football field, he went from obscure walk-on to cult hero all-American at the University of Wisconsin. Then he went from undrafted free agent to NFL starter.
Seven years later he's back home as an established NFL player bearing the label of key offseason addition for the New York Jets.
"You have to have that attitude," Leonhard said. "Those are the only guys that stick around. It's great that I learned that at a young age. That's one of the biggest things I learned from growing up here. It's obviously been very beneficial to my career."
It's late June and Leonhard is back on the field where he once terrorized the Lakeland Conference. For the second consecutive summer, he's hosting a football camp at Flambeau High School. Seventy or so kids are in attendance. Joining Leonhard is Seattle Seahawks fullback and Gilman native Owen Schmitt, as well as Leonhard's college roommate, former Badgers tight end Joel Nellis.
In future years, Leonhard hopes to have even more coaches with NFL and college experience at the camp. Clearly, the camp is a great experience for the collection of kids from all over the area, who get to rub elbows with a pair of NFL players.
"You can see it in their eyes, they're really excited," Leonhard said. "They're not going to show it. They're high school kids. They're too cool to show it. But it's fun."
As Leonhard points out, the camp is just as important to the coaches, who can pick up valuable lessons and new ideas. After each session, Leonhard watches film and talks shop with them. There also will be a barbeque filled with plenty of chalk talk and chances to bounce ideas off each other. It's also pretty clear that the resident NFL safety in the group gets a lot out of it too.
"It's perfect," Leonhard said. "Just to give back to the community and all these fans and all these kids. When I was in high school, there was nothing like this. To have a couple NFL guys come back and college football players - the majority of even local coaches I have working it played somewhere in college - it's just a great opportunity to have good coaching and just get out there and play football."
Thursday Leonhard will hold an autograph signing from 6 to 8 p.m. at Flambeau High School. Fans will pay $5 a pop for his signature and all that money will go to Tony Little League. It's another chance for him to give back to the football-crazy town that he's slowly converting into Jets territory.
After spending most of his career proving over and over again that the 5-foot-8 guy belongs, Leonhard enters this season in something of a new position. He's putting on the third different uniform of his five-year NFL career but he does so as a known commodity.
He was able to parlay a breakout season with the Baltimore Ravens - in which he made 13 starts, had 85 tackles, a sack and an interception - into a free agent deal with the Jets. In New York, he's reunited with Rex Ryan, the former Ravens defensive coordinator and first-year Jets coach.
For the first time in Leonhard's pro career, he enters training camp as a presumptive starter.
"It's really the first time at that level that I've kind of had that seal of approval from a head coach going into the season," Leonhard said. "That gives you a lot of confidence. It also ups your responsibility and just your leadership on the team. I'm taking that as a challenge going into the year."
But don't expect Leonhard to lose any of that small town grit in the Big Apple. He doesn't know any other way.
...thanks Joe, for writing a great article!...
July 31 — 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Aug. 1 — 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. (ST)
Aug. 2 — 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Aug. 3 — 9 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. (ST)
Aug. 4 — 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Aug. 5 — 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. (ST)
Aug. 6 — Green and White Scrimmage, 7 p.m.
Aug. 8 — 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Aug. 9 — 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. (ST)
Aug. 10 — 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Aug. 11 — 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. (ST)
Aug. 12 — Family Night Practice brought to you by Verizon FiOS at Hofstra University, 6 p.m.
Aug. 14 — Preseason game against St. Louis Rams, 7 p.m.
Aug. 16 — 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. (ST)
Aug. 17 — 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Aug. 18 — 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. (ST)
Aug. 19 — 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Aug. 20 — 8:15 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Aug. 21 — 8:15 a.m.
Aug. 22 — Practice at Florham Park, time TBA
Aug. 24 — Preseason game at Baltimore Ravens, 8 p.m.
Aug. 26 — Practice at Florham Park, time TBA
Aug. 27 — Practice at Florham Park, time TBA
Aug. 29 — Preseason game at New York Giants, 8 p.m.
Sept. 3 — Preseason game vs. Philadelphia Eagles: 7 p.m.