Riggins native Leighton Vander Esch has drawn all of Idaho’s in-state pride as the Cowboys’ first-round NFL pick last week. But five other homegrown players have earned an opportunity to pursue their pro football dreams this weekend.
Meridian High grad Mason Hampton (Bengals), Columbia High grads Mario Jenkins (Chiefs) and Eric Cotton (Chiefs), Fruitland grad Alec Dhaenens (Buccaneers) and Rigby High grad JonRyheem Peoples (Saints) all scored rookie minicamp invitations after the NFL Draft concluded Saturday.
Minicamp invitees don’t sign a contract with an NFL team, instead earning a long-shot tryout during rookie minicamps with hopes of making the 90-man offseason roster and eventually the 53-man regular season roster.
Rookie minicamps typically include 50 to 60 players drawn from the draft, undrafted free agents, tryout invitees and other players looking for a second or third opportunity to catch on with an NFL team.
Hampton didn’t receive a single scholarship offer out of high school in 2013, walking on at Boise State. He earned a scholarship the next year, started 22 of the Broncos’ 24 games at center the past two seasons and was elected to the All-Mountain West first team this fall.
Jenkins anchored Idaho State’s defense as a linebacker for three years, earning Big Sky Freshman of the Year in 2014. He twice was elected to the Big Sky all-conference second team before finishing his career as a first-teamer with 111 tackles last fall, tied for the most in the Big Sky.
“Happy to be able to continue my dream and achieve another goal of mine,” Jenkins wrote on Facebook. “It’s true if you put in the work, no matter what route you take, you’ll always get what you worked for. Time to make my dream happen and leave another legacy.”
Stanford recruited Cotton as a tight end before converting him to defensive end in 2015. He played in 12 games for Stanford last fall, recording 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Dhaenens made 13 catches for Boise State last season for 175 yards and two TDs. He led Fruitland to three straight state championship games, including the 2010 3A state title.
Peoples originally signed as a defensive lineman with BYU out of Rigby before transferring to Idaho State and starting the past three years. He racked up a career-high 46 tackles as a senior this fall to finish as an honorable mention all-Big Sky selection.
Peoples potentially could join two other Idaho natives in New Orleans: Blackfoot grad Josh Hill, a tight end, and Highland grad Taysom Hill, a quarterback.
Other former Idaho high school players on NFL rosters include Broncos center Matt Paradis (Council), Bills offensive tackle Josh James (Coeur d’Alene) and Packers wide receiver Colby Pearson (Blackfoot).
Paradis and Vander Esch were the only two to be drafted.
The Patriots released Marsing grad Shea McClellin in March and he remains a free agent.