BOISE, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) "A lot of times you sit back and think when you do get healthy, it makes you grow up as a man, as an athlete, as a person."
(Source: Leighton Vander Esch)
Dallas Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has been relatively injury free, until a neck injury cost seven games last season, requiring off season surgery.
Vander Esch said, "it's one of the only times of my life I've had to deal with an injury of that sort."
With several months of training camp remaining, he's gearing up to have a campaign similar to when he broke out into the league, in 2018.
"This is a big year coming up, year three," he exclaimed.
Vander Esch has 425,000 Instagram followers and his own clothing line, but he wasn't a huge five star recruit coming out of high school.
Vander Esch said, "I had some walk-on offers, some on the east coast, but most of my offers were small schools, NAIA schools, D-II schools, nothing of the caliber which I wanted to play at to get to the professional level."
In fact, he worked hard to catch the eye of then Boise State defensive coordinator, Andy Avalos.
"He was bugging me to get some film, 'everyone is talking about you'. So I had a free hour in high school my senior year where I went into my computer class and I watched all my games, just cut up, cutups, cutups, they're still on YouTube. I don't know why I put them on there," he laughed.
He earned a walk-on spot at Boise State and during his red-shirt junior season, he led them to the Mountain West Championship in 2017, when he earned defensive MVP honors, followed by a win over Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Vander Esch remembers that fondly, "and that was the last one for me being a Bronco so that holds a special place in my heart. And I think about that game all the time, just making a statement in that game and going out with a bang."
The Salmon River High School graduate isn't like some of his peers in the NFL.
Not everyone grew up in towns as small as Riggins, but he does share one distinctive trait with everyone playing on Sunday's.
"Driven, you're determined from within, that comes from yourself, that comes from yourself, the way you're growing up, you're determined, you're convicted. Then the sky is the limit for you."