Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Q&A with Jim Leonhard

The Badger Herald spoke with New York Jets safety and former Wisconsin Badger Jim Leonhard to discuss his work with current UW safety Chris Maragos and relationship with former UW wide receiver Luke Swan.

Badger Herald: What was it like to come back over the last two offseasons to work out with Chris Maragos?

Jim Leonhard: It’s a lot of fun to go back and just get these young guys that have followed in my footsteps that knowledge that you wish you had when you were playing and just try to give them little things to help them out. It’s not only Chris, you know, I worked with Jay Valai and Aaron Henry and some other guys as well. I love coming back and working out with those guys.


BH: Why do you come back to work out with the team?

JL: I always come back and work out there in the offseason. It helps me as well — anytime you can teach football to other people it helps you out, it helps with your understanding of the game.

BH: What kind of ability did you see in Chris in particular?

JL: Chris has a lot of ability. You can tell he’s just a pretty naturally good athlete. He has a good understanding of the game, one of those guys who does things the right way without really being taught.

BH: When did the two of you first meet?

JL: Two offseasons ago, we got to meet and workout a bit and this past offseason his feel for the game really, really stepped up. I think that experience he had last year has gotten him to where he is now.

BH: What did you see that was different in Chris this past offseason than the first time?

JL: We met two years ago and at that time, he wasn’t necessarily ready, he needed that experience that you get on the field and kind of know what it was like a little bit more. So, this last offseason I was able to help him out a little bit more. We met a good amount, and whether it was watching film or doing drills, he was very open to the things that I said, and I think it has helped him out a lot.

BH: Some people have suggested Chris overcomes a somewhat lack of athletic ability through his strong drive and competitiveness, would you agree with that assessment?

JL: Chris is a lot more athletic than he gets credit for, but at the same time, he’s a smart football player. He understands that if you play the game the right way, good things are going to happen to you and that’s what he does.

BH: What does he do that has allowed him to play so well then?

JL: Chris studies the game. He’s not the type of player that just shows up on Saturday and expects good things to happen. He studies the game and he understands the other team and what they’re trying to do to you.

BH: How does his background on the offensive side of the ball help him at safety?

JL: I think his experience on offense helps him at times to know how teams are going to attack you. I know he’s talked to me about that a little bit, about what offenses are trying to do. So, I know it definitely helps him on the field and switching over to that defensive mentality he can use that offensive knowledge to his advantage.

BH: Do you see any similarities between yourself and Chris?

JL: The biggest similarity between Chris and myself is that he’s a pretty natural athlete. He can do a lot of things that you can’t teach. He’s always around the football and he always seems to be making plays, and I think it just comes with the fact that he has a good feel for the game. And like myself, I guess, he is into the game. He doesn’t just want to know his job, he wants to understand the entire defense and he wants to know what’s going on around him…and that allows him to make plays.

BH: Do you get to watch Wisconsin games on Saturdays?

JL: I watch Wisconsin as much as possible. It’s hard if we’re on the road because usually we’re traveling during their game time. Usually if we have a home game I’ll try to watch because we’re done with practice at that time.

BH: So, how many games have you seen this year?

JL: I got to see a couple games this year and the team definitely looks like they’ve improved since last year. They’re playing the right way this year — you see the energy and a little more passion and desire in those guys than last year for whatever reason.

BH: Did you get to see the big interceptions Chris had recently?

JL: Unfortunately, I did not get to see Chris’ big plays. We were on the road for a couple of those weeks and I wasn’t able to get the game on where we were. But I’m proud of him, he definitely earned it. He’s earned the right to be able to make those kind of plays.

BH: What kind of future or potential do you see for Chris at the next level?

JL: It’s hard to say what kind of future Chris could have at the next level. I think he’s got that chance if he continues to improve at the rate that I’ve seen. If you’re a good football player, you’ve got a chance in the NFL. He’s definitely intelligent enough.

BH: Do you think he could follow a similar path to yours as an undrafted free agent?

JL: I hope he can do better than I did. He definitely doesn’t have to follow in my footsteps as an undrafted free agent. If you make plays on Saturdays they’ll come find you. He has the physical abilities and the mental makeup to get a chance at this level, he just has to continue to improve.

BH: Why do you think there is a tradition of walk-ons going on to become captains at UW?

JL: It’s partly due to the coaches. They realize that the walk-on program and the kids that they get to walk on are guys that have slipped through the cracks and are sometimes better athletes than the scholarship players. You miss guys like that every once in a while. The Wisconsin coaches are smart enough to give guys that opportunity and for the most part we’ve had guys take advantage of that opportunity and become well-liked and well-respected by their teammates who eventually give them the opportunity to be captains.

BH: Have you talked to Chris at all about being named a captain this year?

JL: I’ve talked to Chris a little bit about it, and you know, he’s as proud about that as he is with anything that he does on the field because that comes from your team. They respect you enough as a person and a player to say that you’re one of their leaders, and he takes great pride in that, as I did as well. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, if you gain the respect of your teammates like that you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

BH: You also played with Luke Swan, Chris’ roommate, what kind of relationship do you have with Luke these days?

JL: Every once in a while I’ll run into Luke or talked to him. I haven’t seen him in a while, but we’re from the same mold. He’s another guy that knows how to play the game the right way and made the most of his opportunities once he got them.

BH: What do the stories of your successes do for younger athletes in Wisconsin?

JL: I think guys all across the state can look up to guys like us, just because we weren’t highly touted coming out of high school and no one really expected much out of us. But if you play football the right way, you’ll get your opportunities and you make the most of them.

BH: What is the best advice you could give about playing football?

JL: The biggest thing is to just not get discouraged if you’re not getting that many opportunities or if you’re not playing well. If you do things the right way in this game, it’s only a matter of time before you get that opportunity and it’s only a matter of time before that success comes. It’s the guys that either are lazy or don’t go about this game the right way that generally get themselves in trouble on the field. If you’re focused and play the game the right way, good things are eventually going to happen to you, and I think all three of us are good examples of that.

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