Boise State vs New Mexico Football

Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (38) celebrates after an interception against New Mexico on Sept. 14 at Albertsons Stadium.

BOISE - Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch announced Thursday morning that he will skip his senior season and enter the 2018 NFL Draft.

The Idaho Press-Tribune first reported the news, and Vander Esch confirmed it with a tweet a short time later. 

Vander Esch was the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and was the MVP of the Mountain West title game. He had 141 tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss, 4.0 sacks and three interceptions on the season. 

The 141 tackles tied for the third-most in a single season in Boise State history and were the most since Scott Monk finished with 140 in 1992.

“I talked with Harsin and Avalos last night and I think that’s what I really needed, I just wanted to make sure they were on the same page and talked with my family and everything and it just felt right,” Vander Esch told the Idaho Press-Tribune. “There was nothing that was holding me back. Why don’t I do it? There was no reason I shouldn’t do it. Everything to this point has worked out amazing, and I think it’s my best option right now and I’m looking forward to every single bit of it and making the most of it.”

Vander Esch said he hasn’t received his evaluation back from the NFL yet but was told by multiple scouts, agents, etc. that he’d likely be no worse than a second round pick.

“It wasn’t even really about that to me,” Vander Esch said. “My dream has always been to play in the NFL, whether that’s first round, second round, third round, wherever. It’s not about that. It’s about fulfilling a dream I’ve had.”

Vander Esch had a team-high 12 tackles, including three tackles-for-loss, and also had a sack and a forced fumble to lead a strong defensive effort in a 38-28 win over Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl last Saturday.

Asked if he considered not playing in the Las Vegas Bowl to avoid a possible injury, Vander Esch said emphatically, “I never once told myself or even thought about not playing. I was playing in that game no matter what. I just feel like it’s only right to go out there and give it everything you have for your teammates and your coaches. It never even crossed my mind should I play or not.”

It's the fifth consecutive year that a Boise State player has elected to leave school early for the NFL Draft.

“Down the stretch the last month he played extremely well against good competition, good football teams,” Avalos said. “So to see him finish the season the way he did, for such an unbelievable person, as good a football player as he is, he’s an even better person, so I’m extremely excited for him.”

An NFL talent evaluator told the Idaho Press-Tribune that Vander Esch could be a first or second round pick in the upcoming 2018 Draft depending on his performances at the NFL Scouting Combine and predraft workouts.

Vander Esch said he had “complete and total confidence in myself because I love competing and going out there and proving people wrong. I’m going to train the hardest I possibly can and be in a position to go kill it (at the workouts).”

“I’m not done yet,” Vander Esch said. “I have to go excel and live up to my dream and do everything I possibly want to do. It’s only the beginning, and that’s what makes me excited about the support I’ve had from my family, friends, the community in Riggins, Boise State, Bronco Nation, everything. I couldn’t have asked for a better support system and I know they will always have my back in the end if I need anything. I wouldn’t have gotten to the place I am without the people around me.”

Vander Esch said it was special moment when he informed his parents and family members of his final decision.

“They’ve all been so supportive and it just makes you sit back and realize how thankful and blessed you have to be,” Vander Esch said. “It’s special to have people like that in your life and to finally get to a point where you’re going to live your dream and know you’ll be able to give back to them in the future, it’s the best feeling ever.”

Said his father Darwin: “Really excited for Leighton. Like we’ve all talked about from the time he was a little kid, it was a goal of his to try and get to the NFL and he had some God given talents and not every kid has that.

“He had good leadership at Boise State, we have to thank Andy and coach Harsin and the coaches for giving him the opportunity to step on the big stage and play D-1 football and helping make the next step. It’s been his goal, so I’m just proud of him. He’s worked hard. A lot of people don’t realize how much work is involved.”

Asked if he planned to drive the famous Vander Esch Bus from Riggins to see his son play in the NFL, Darwin said, “We already have people asking and saying we’re getting on the bus wherever he’s at. Just depends where he ends up, but we’ve got some ideas.”

Check back to for more on this developing situation. 

B.J Rains has covered Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press since 2013. He is an Associated Press Top 25 men's basketball poll voter, and also contributes to KBOI-TV as a Boise State insider.

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