The Jim Leonhard Award
is given annually to the top senior defensive back as part of the WSN Senior Football Awards presented by Taco Bell. The award is named after former Flambeau High School and University of Wisconsin athlete Jim Leonhard, who has gone on to great success in the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets.
The pre-season watch list was trimmed down to 25 semi-finalists, and five finalists for the award have now been selected. Winners are announced the week of the state finals.
Jim Leonhard Award Finalists:
Carvel Graham, Kenosha Bradford
– Graham had a breakout performance in last year's Division 1 title game, recording 7 tackles, including 2 for loss, while also breaking up several passes. He continued his strong play into his senior season for head coach Jim Camerota. Graham moved from corner to free safety midway through the season and became the quarterback of the defense, making all the coverage checks. “He is a shutdown corer and exceptional man to man defender,” Camerota said.
Eric Kittel, Brillion
– Also a standout running back for father and head coach Pete Kittel, Eric has been a big factor in the team's success over the last few seasons. He's been a First Team All-Conference choice in the Olympian-Packerland Large the past two years and this season was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year. “Eric is a very instinctive player,” said the elder Kittel.
Ryan Makuski, Amherst
– Makuski currently leads the state with an amazing 12 interceptions on the season. “Each week he has the responsibility of covering the other team's best receiver,” said head coach Mark Lusic. “We play man to man almost almost exclusively and usually he has no safety help either.” In fact, all 12 of Makuski's interceptions came via man to man coverage. The Falcons are 9-0 heading into tonight's Level 2 contest, and Makuski is a big reason for that success. In a 20-0 win over league rival Shiocton, last year's D6 runner-up, Makuski recorded 4 interceptions to help preserve the win and the shutout.
Jackson Weber, Whitefish Bay
– Weber is one of the more versatile players in the state, earning All-Conference honors at both receiver and defensive back in his career. In his senior season he has flown all over the field for the Blue Dukes, recording 81 tackles (50 solo), 3 interceptions, and 8 pass break-ups. He returned one of those interceptions for a touchdown and also blocked two kicks. “I have coached 36 years with two players in the NFL and he is as good as them,” said head coach Jim Tietjen.
Kegan Wirtz, West De Pere
– Wirtz racked up the interceptions for the Phantoms as they claimed a second straight Division 2 title last year, but has seen his role adjusted a bit this season. His effectiveness has not been impacted one bit despite his interception total being a bit lower. “Kegan is our #1 tackler and like an extra coach out on the field,” veteran head coach Bill Turnquist said. In addition to an interception return for a touchdown this year, Wirtz also has two punt returns for scores.