Boise State's Vander Esch silences doubters, but also quiet on NFL future

Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (38) celebrates after an interception against New Mexico Sept. 14 at Albertsons Stadium. (Photo by Chris Bronson/Idaho Press-Tribune)

BOISE - Utah State’s Jalen Davis or Wyoming’s Andrew Wingard both deserved consideration for Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, but it was hard to argue with the choice of Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch.

Those that did had nothing to say Saturday night.

After some on social media criticized the pick of Vander Esch despite his impressive stats that included 100-plus tackles, the junior linebacker went out and had 16 tackles and the game-clinching interception to help Boise State win the Mountain West Championship with a 17-14 win over Fresno State.

“Gotta silence the doubters somehow,” Vander Esch said Thursday.

Vander Esch is putting together one of the best defensive seasons at Boise State in several years. The Riggins, Idaho, native leads the Broncos with 129 tackles and also has 5.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, three interceptions, four pass break-ups and three forced fumbles.

As Boise State gets set to play Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl a week from Saturday on Dec. 16, he’s just 13 tackles shy of moving into third place on Boise State’s single-season tackles list.

Simply put the 6-4, 240-pound Vander Esch is putting together a season that many have done in school history. And he’s only a junior.

“It’s neat, but I’m just trying to do everything I can for my teammates and coaches,” Vander Esch said. “I’m just being a sponge and taking in everything I can from everybody. Even being a leader you have to listen to your own teammates and your coaches. I’m just doing that and just stepping up and taking pride in it all.”

But whether or not the Las Vegas Bowl will be the final game for Vander Esch in a Bronco uniform remains unknown. His name has started to gain traction among NFL Draft scouting services in recent weeks, and it’s possible he could elect to strike while the iron is hot and skip his senior season.

NFL Draft analyst Tony Pauline said Vander Esch grades as a high pick should he leave, and said some scouts were calling him a “special player.”

Vander Esch was asked about the NFL again Thursday, the second time in two weeks that he’s been asked, but he was again non-committal about any decision.

“No, I’ve been focused week by week,” Vander Esch said Thursday. “I’m not worried about things right now that are after the fact. We have a game to go win and we’re going to do that.”

Vander Esch was asked if it was a compliment that he was being mentioned as a possible NFL draft pick, and he paused before saying, “I really don’t want to talk about it right now but I mean I have to give credit to everybody else, too. I couldn’t have done this without my teammates and coaches too, so it’s not just me. But I’m going to leave it at that.”

An NFL agent recently told the Idaho Press-Tribune that Vander Esch could be a first or second round pick should he elect to come out this season.

Vander Esch and the Broncos will play Oregon in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 16 at 1:30 p.m. MT on ABC. KBOI 2 and will have complete coverage of the Broncos leading up to the game.

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