Boise State football practice - Aug. 9, 2016
It may not surprise Idaho high school sports fans, but the deep Boise State linebacker corps could produce another homegrown standout.
Sophomore Leighton Vander Esch, a former walk-on from Salmon River High, may be the group’s next breakout star because of his renowned athleticism.
The 6-foot-4, 236-pound WILL linebacker, listed as the backup behind senior Ben Weaver, had 20 tackles last season, including a sack and a fumble recovery. He also had a 10-yard run on a fake punt.
A state basketball champion at Salmon River, he showed his dunking skills Monday when the team played some basketball before practice.
“You guys will see a lot of him this year. He’s amazing,” junior defensive end Gabe Perez said.
Vander Esch is growing out of the “baby giraffe” nickname that defensive coordinator Andy Avalos once bestowed upon him. He’s added close to 40 pounds since he arrived on campus two years ago.
“I don’t feel quite as skinny and lanky,” Vander Esch said in April. “I feel like I’ve developed physically quite a bit.”
While he is still likely to back up Weaver, Vander Esch has a template for what role he could have this season. In 2015, Tyler Gray played the same position, started seven games and was extremely effective whenever he was on the field, making 53 tackles (eight for loss) with two fumble recoveries.
“I can feel myself fitting it perfectly, just like he did,” Vander Esch said.
The confidence has grown along with his stature, and the position’s future looks bright.
Said Avalos: “Leighton’s even getting to the part where he’s bringing along some of the young guys that just got here. That’s cool to see.’’
MEL KIPER JR.: BOISE STATE FAN?
Junior quarterback Tommy Stuart is perhaps the college football player ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. knows the most about. Not necessarily because he thinks Stuart will go No. 1 overall in 2018, but because the two have built a friendship.
“He went to my high school, an alumni of my high school (Calvert Hall in Maryland),” Stuart said. “He’s an awesome guy, awesome friend.”
Stuart said Kiper doesn’t miss a Calvert Hall game and had a hand in him transferring there from the school he played at as a freshman and sophomore. Kiper even called the coach at Butte (Calif.) College to put in a good word for Stuart once he graduated.
Kiper gave Stuart a shout-out during the NFL Draft broadcast in 2015 after high school teammate Adrian Amos was drafted by the Bears.
“I’m hoping to get some more run over these couple years,” Stuart said. “I’ve been pushing my old teammates, I’m like ‘hey, you guys have got to make it.’”
TWO-A-DAYS, PART ONE
The Broncos had their first two-a-day practice Tuesday, practicing in the morning at Albertsons Stadium and in the afternoon at the Caven-Williams Indoor Complex. They also are expected to hold two practices Saturday and next Tuesday.
Dave Southorn: 208-377-6420, @IDS_BroncoBeat