Riggins native Leighton Vander Esch makes his hometown proud

RIGGINS, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) Leighton Vander Esch, when you hear the name, you think Dallas linebacker or former Boise State great.

Vander Esch is an Idaho native, growing up in a community of no more than 500 people.

And for the town of Riggins, this Cowboy isn't just a star, he's representative of everything they embrace.

Vander Esch said, "it's pretty special to see how kind of everything developed over the years and the six years I've been out of high school, unbelievable."

"It kind of enlightened everyone around here to have a superhero go to the NFL and changed Riggins quite a bit," added Seven Devils Steakhouse owner, John Belton.

We caught up with Belton right before he shut down the restaurant, during this COVID-19 crisis.

"It's taking a toll, it's the coronavirus and a financial decision going backwards," Belton added.

In fact Leighton Vander Esch just stopped in his restaurant earlier this month.

Belton explained, "a lot of people come to town hoping to meet Vander Esch.

Just like many businesses across the country, the pandemic is shuttering doors, despite panoramic views right below.

But if Riggins can survive a challenging steelhead season, or the COVID-19 pandemic, the residents can survive anything, just ask the Vander Esch's neighbor, Dan Anduiza.

"The ancients survived, we survived."

Anduiza believes it's Vander Esch's humble nature that got him to the NFL.

"He's a team player, he knows because of eight man football. They all depend on each other, those that have less do more and that's why he's where he's at, with the Cowboys," Anduiza added.

He makes it a point of coming home any chance he gets to watch his Alma mater, Salmon River in action, whether it's football or basketball.

Vander Esch said, it means a lot just being able to interact with the boys, my little brother-in-law plays there now, it's awesome to see him develop."

He might be a star on America's team, but his heart belongs in Riggins.