At the Boise State spring game in 2015, I remember being huddled under the bleachers during the rainstorm, talking about the skinny walk-on linebacker from Riggins, Idaho (population 406) with some other fans, wondering if he could ever be as great as other homegrown Idaho LB’s. He then proceeded to blow all of us away over the rest of his career, and tbh, most weren’t even mad he declared early. Leighton Vander Esch built himself from a 185 lb, small school, multi-sport star into a 6’4, 256 lb beast of an elite level linebacker.
Of course, we didn’t know then. What we knew was that this kid had led his team to win championships in every sport he played. We learned that he works his tail off, that he’s personable and funny in interviews, and went from the skinny kid everybody called the Baby Giraffe to the heart of Boise State’s defense over the course of two seasons. After the 2016 season, we fretted if we could replace Tanner Vallejo who had just been drafted to the Bills. Turns out, like almost always, the next man up was READY. LVE had been living in the weight room and the practice facility, and watching little but game film for two years, apparently, because he blew up every running back in the conference like he had them memorized. Watching him stand on the stand with the MWC trophy, screaming his joy into the freezing Boise night, just before pwning Oregon in the most Boise State pwning Oregon possible way was the best wrap up for a career Boise could ask for. He’s the real deal.
LVE patrols sideline to sideline better than most humans alive, and chases down men he has no business catching. Almost always being in the right spot to make a play is not luck, its skill. Leighton’s stats bear this out. 141 tackles, 8.5 of those being for loss, and 4 being sacks. Batted down 5 passes, intercepted 2, and forced 4 fumbles. He’s long, lean, and fast, even with that build still filling out, and will likely get even more comfortable and even stronger in that big frame in the next few years.
Yes, his neck injury was a thing a couple years ago. But it was more about bad timing than it being an exacerbated, long term problem that kept him off the field, and it didn’t bother him at *all* this season. (Let’s be real, this is the type of sketchy source bullshit that some dudes do. Maybe its for attention, maybe its for clicks, and maybe its to drive down the “stock price” of certain players on behalf of teams/owners/whatever. Charlie Campbell of WalterFootball.com isn’t exactly a solid source for this stuff. My man Tom Scott certainly seems of similar mind.) I mean, look at this. The man obviously worked on making sure that neck was supported. This is tiny stuff that great athletes do over hours in the weight room, not some flippant hidden mess of an injury that went untended.
Wyoming’s Josh Allen is going to be the highest overall pick from a Mountain West school, because QB’s are sexy. Especially when they are tall, have cannons for arms, and smiles that belong on Wheaties boxes. Unfortunately for the city of Cleveland and draft pundits everywhere, LVE is gonna turn out to be the better player, no matter where he lands. The dude learned his lessons on How To Win at Life successfully. Be present, try your hardest, do the work. Ask Matt Paradis or Shea McClellan. Those lessons are handed out at Boise State, but for the Idaho kids, they aren’t new. That’s just how most of us roll, when we’ve got ambition, because its ingrained. Thats how you win. You study. You work. You show up day after day after day. Nate Potter. DeMarcus Lawrence. Korey Hall. Jay Ajayi. Orlando Scandrick. Darian Thompson. Kellen Moore. They all learned, and they all made themselves a success in the NFL, despite coming from the
Little Sisters of the Poor Boise State.
Leighton has all of the room in the world to be a better linebacker. Is he raw? A little. Only being a few seasons removed from playing All The Positions in All of the Sports in high school will do that. But he’s not as rough as some people discussing all this would have us believe. Is he a first rounder? Maybe, if someone is really truly impressed. He should go that high, but he won’t. Josh Allen will walk on that stage first and know that the only man capable of bringing him down up until that point is in the room. He suffered one tackle for loss in 2017…and it was to Leighton Vander Esch.