Jets safety Leonhard already eager to face Bills


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
So often over the years, Jim Leonhard has been told he wasn't good enough.

He has done a sensational job of proving them all wrong. But for the first time in his career, he will have an opportunity to play a team that gave up on him.

Leonhard, the 5-foot-8 safety who has signed a three-year contract with the New York Jets, gets to face the Buffalo Bills.

"It will be the first time that I've been put in that situation, and it will mean a lot," Leonhard said Wednesday on a conference call. "I'm sure it will be an emotional day, that first time that we play.

"I'm looking forward to that day, and hopefully we can make it a day that I'll remember for a long time."

The best scholarship offers Leonhard received were from Division II schools, and if he hadn't been a promising baseball player he might not have generated that interest either.

He attended the University of Wisconsin as a walk-on because "it came down to giving it a run at that top level," he said. "I would have been kicking myself my entire life if I didn't take that chance."

He became a star for the Badgers, but wasn't drafted. The Bills signed him, waived him, re-signed him and then decided not to bring him back when his contract expired after the 2007 season. He played in 38 games with the Bills, starting seven.

"I don't hold a grudge against what they did," Leonhard said of the Bills. "The harsh reality is that this is a business as much as it is about football. They decided to go a different way, which happens year in and year out with players."

Buffalo's decision worked out well for him.

He landed with the Baltimore Ravens, and after Dawan Landry suffered a spinal cord injury, started 13 regular-season games and three playoff games at strong safety.

Leonhard finished fourth in tackles with 85. He had one sack and one interception in the regular season. In the playoffs, he had a half sack, an interception, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

"Although I didn't personally have a great amount of success [with Buffalo], I had a great time and I learned a lot," Leonhard said. "I learned a lot about the NFL and about who I was as a player in that organization.

"I'm going to enjoy [playing the Bills]. It's going to be a little weird that first game, playing against them, but hopefully we can get a bunch of wins so I can get bragging rights."