Cowboys’ LB Vander Esch’s Parents on Son’s Rise to NFL Top 100 Players of 2019

Getty Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch

Dallas Cowboys’ rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch had a tremendous start to his career in 2018. He did so well that his peers voted him 74th on NFL Network’s Top 100 players.

Vander Esch had 135 total tackles, seven passes defended, and two interceptions in his rookie season.

He had double-digit tackles against the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He also had 3 passes defended at the Atlanta Falcons‘ home field.

He certainly earned NFL players respect in just one season. There’s a lot of excitement surrounding this young star and he will look to have years of success as a stalwart in the Cowboy’s defense. He helps solidify a linebacker core that already has playmakers like Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith.


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Leighton’s Story

This section features snippets from Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit’s recent day with Leighton’s family. Benoit and his crew met with Leighton’s dad Darwin, mom Sandy, and other family members in Riggins, Idaho (population 419).

Leighton played college football with Boise State. He had 141 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, and four sacks in his junior season, before being drafted 19th overall in 2018 by the Cowboys.

At the draft, his parents were looking on as drama swirled around the Cowboys’ selection. Which player will they take?

“We were worried that the crowd would be caught off-guard when his name was called,” says Darwin. “They were worried that the fans would be all lathered up for a receiver and then hear some unfamiliar name of a linebacker and start booing.”

When Rodger Godell came to the stage to announce the Cowboy’s pick, the crowd booed heavily and that’s how Vander Esch was welcomed into the league. But, that didn’t change anything for Leighton as he took a ride from Idaho to Texas with his family in Jerry Jones’ private helicopter on a separate occasion.

During the recent offseason, Leighton and his wife, Maddy bought an RV, where they traveled and lived in for a majority of the his off-time. This after buying a house in Riggins after being drafted.

“I told him he could certainly stay here with us [in our house],” Darwin says, “and he said ‘No way!’”

It’s great to see that the money hasn’t changed his lifestyle negatively.

Hunting with the Joneses

The Joneses are avid hunters and Darwin happens to be a professional hunting guide. Earlier this year, Darwin and Stephen Jones went on an eight-day hunting trip in Alaska.

Darwin’s trips to Alaska interfered with him seeing his son’s games because of the time of year both seasons fall.

However, in Week 2, Darwin even flew overnight from Alaska to Dallas to see his son’s first NFL home game. The Cowboys won the primetime game over the New York Giants  and Darwin immediately flew back to Alaska without seeing his son afterwords.


READ NEXT: Cowboys’ Byron Jones Lands on NFL Top 100 List


Vander Esch’s teammate cornerback Byron Jones was voted 97th in the Top 100 countdown. NFL Network premieres a new episode each day for the next six days with 10 players at a time. Tomorrow’s episode will feature Top 100 players, 70-61 and starts at 9 p.m. ET.


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