From 8-man football in high school to a walk-in in Boise State, and now, a first round NFL draft pick. Former Broncos linebacker Leighton Vander Esch on Thursday was ranked 19th in the first round of the Dallas Cowboys.
Vander Esch, the defensive player of the Mountain West West in 2017, was among 22 players invited to attend the design in Arlington, Texas. In his hometown of Riggins dozens of locals gathered for a watch party and celebrated his selection. Reading signs throughout the city of barely more than 400 "Leighton is our # 1 pick."
With the selection, Vander Esch, who served as captain for Boise State in 2017, became the fifth first-round pick in Boise's political history
"It left me speechless ̵
It was also a dream scenario for the cowboys, hoping the design would fall for them to get the man they wanted all the time.
With so much focus on the quarterbacks early on, the cowboys felt the player they wanted fall to No. 19 on them. They resisted the urge to escape to the state of Florida, Derwin James, who dropped back to 17th place with the San Diego Chargers.
From the start, they were targeting Vander Esch to take the best player on the board, like a huge need for linebackers after Anthony Hitchens left for the Kansas City Chiefs in a freelance agency.
The cowboys made no secret of their interest. Linebacker coach Ben Bloom visited Boise State and completed a private training session with Vander Esch. He was also a briefing guest at the team headquarters of the Star in Frisco. Owner Jerry Jones said, "We picked this player early."
Vander Esch is ideally suited to linebacker, where he replaces Hitchens and allows the Cowboys to play Jaylon Smith on strong side with Pro Bowler Sean Lee to man the weak side.
"I feel that Mitte is my main position," said Vander Esch. "I do not feel that I could fit better on the defensive."
Vander Esch was newcomer to Boise State in 2014, collecting 47 tackles in the first two seasons on the field. He was restricted to six games as Redshirt Sophomore due to injuries.
But the 6-foot-4, 256-pound Vander Esch erupted as Redshirt Junior in 2017, finishing second in the Mountain West with 141 tackles to go along with three interceptions and three forced fumbles. His 141 tackles were the most for a Bronco defender since 1988.
Vander Esch was named to the defensive MVP by Boise State's 17-14 win over Fresno State in the 2017 Mountain West Championship Game. He announced that he would forgo his last qualifying year and join the NFL Draft on 21 December 2017, five days after he led Boise State to a 38-28 Las Vegas Bowl victory over Oregon.
Vander Esch's injury as a college student became a controversy that led to the draft when reports surfaced that teams were worried about a neck injury. He told reporters in Dallas that "I had no neck injuries." The cowboys had him do a medical test on Thursday morning before they drew him.
He is the first linebacker to have been designed by the Cowboys in the first round since 2006.
"We have super bowls to win, many of them," Vander Esch told the NFL Network minutes after his draft.
Prior to his Boise State career, Vander Esch played Salmon River High School as a quarterback and linebacker. As a senior in 2013, Vander threw Esch for 2,155 yards and 28 touchdowns with just one interception while running for 1,565 yards and 34 touchdowns. He ran and played basketball, where he scored an average of 29.4 points per game as a senior. He was honored as a Student Athlete of the Year by IdahoSports.com in 2014. He won state championships in football and basketball as a junior and senior.
Vander Esch joins a cowboys team known for his love of Boise State players. He will be on the list of cowboys along with former Demarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford. The team cut former Boise State defensive back Orlando Scandrick in the offseason.
And of course, the team's quarterback coach is none other than former Broncos signalman Kellen Moore.
The Cowboys' Web site provided instant analysis of the selection
"Linebacker was a prime need of the Cowboys in this offseason after center linebacker Anthony Hitchens left for Kansas City for a freelance agency The Cowboys signed Joe Thomas to offsetting Kyle Wilber's free agent loss. " He is confident in Jaylon's progress, but Vander Esch adds depth as a starting caliber, who can play all three linebacker positions. Let us remember that defensive captain Sean Lee also missed time last year.
BOISE STATE'S FIRST ROUND PICKS
OT Ryan Clady, No. 12 In Total (Denver), 2007
CB Kyle Wilson, No. 29 In All (NY Jets), 2010
LB Shea McClellin, No. 19 in its entirety (Chicago), 2012  RB Doug Martin, No. 31 in its entirety (Bucca neers), 2012
LB Leighton Vander Esch, No. 19 in its entirety (Cowboys), 2018
Michael Katz of the Idaho Statesman and Drew Davison and Clarence E Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star Telegram contributed to this story.