The Jim Leonhard Award is given annually to the top senior defensive back as part of the WSN Senior Football Awards. 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 Bills, Ravens, Jets, Broncos, and Saints.
The pre-season watch list was trimmed down to 15 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:
Jacob DeMille, De Pere - Announced recently as the FRCC Defensive Back of the Year in addition to a First Team All-Conference selection, DeMille leads the state in interceptions. "He finished the season with 11 interceptions, highlighted by two interceptions against James Morgan in our Level 1 overtime loss to Ashwaubenon," said head coach Chad Michalkiewicz. "Jacob was a team captain for our football team and the most cerebral player I have ever had the opportunity to coach." In addition to 11 interceptions, he finished with 47 tackles.
Jared Dittmer, Oshkosh North - "I do believe that Jared Dittmer is the best defensive back in the state of Wisconsin," head coach Chris Kujawa said of his senior standout. "Jared was named unanimous First Team All-Conference in the VFA-South as well as Defensive Back of the Year. He's the best defensive back I've coached in my 23 years." Dittmer picked off 8 passes this season, with 30 tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries.
Cody Kujawa, Waukesha West - "Cody is an excellent choice for the award," said head coach Steve Rux. "He has had an outstanding season so far as a defensive back and has returned multiple kicks for touchdowns." Kujawa is 2nd on the team in tackles with 104, leads the way with 4 interceptions, and has 6 pass breakups. He's also racked up over 500 yards on kick/punt returns with 3 touchdowns.
Elijah Strong, Oak Creek - "Elijah is a three-year starter and three-year All-Conference player," head coach Mike Bartholomew said. "He is the best cover corner I have seen. Disciplined, instinctive, and fearless in coverage and run support. The total package." One of the best pure cover corners to come out of the state in a while, teams rarely challenged him. He did record 29 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 14 pass break-ups this season.
Bret Verstegen, Kimberly - Verstegen showed his versatility this season by moving to safety after spending last year as a First Team All-Conference cornerback. He was even better as a senior, earning not only First Team All-Conference, but VFA-North Defensive Back of the Year honors. "Bret is a defensive back that can cover the opponent's best receiver one-on-one, he covers a lot ground quickly from the safety position while the ball is in the air, and he fills the alleys and tackles extremely well in the run game," said head coach Steve Jones. He has 36 tackles and 7 interceptions through 13 games, with a pair of INT's each of the last three playoff games. He's added 5 receiving touchdowns and a punt return score this season as well.