Baby Giraffe is now a grown-up Cowboy

There were seeds of doubt planted among us the past couple of weeks when the baloney blogs raised questions about Leighton Vander Esch’s neck and supposed lack of experience. Maybe he wouldn’t go in the first round of the NFL Draft last night. But raise your hand if—knowing that Dallas was his first real chance to be selected—you turned up the TV a bit when it was time for the No. 19 overall pick. I gotta say, to hear Commissioner Roger Goodell call Vander Esch’s name was exhilarating. The Cowboys do not hesitate when it comes to Boise State, and hey, they needed a Bronco to replace Orlando Scandrick on defense. So Vander Esch joins Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence on the Dallas roster. And LVE now gets to try to befuddle quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore in practice.

There are myriad storylines here. Vander Esch is the fifth first-round pick in Boise State history, and it’s the fifth straight year Boise State has had an early entrant into the NFL Draft selected. It’s also the ninth straight year a Bronco has been drafted. But the biggest story is Leighton himself, an eight-man football player from Riggins (population 419, as America found out last night via an ESPN graphic). Vander Esch walked on at Boise State—and was named a team captain before he had even started a game. Then he put together one of the best seasons ever seen on the blue.

Here’s a straight copy ‘n paste from the Scott Slant column on March 6, 2014—hope you enjoy it: “This guy will bear watching the next four or five years. It’s flown under the radar a bit, but Boise State did land Idaho 1A Player of the Year Leighton Vander Esch as a preferred walk-on. Vander Esch was everything to Salmon River High as it racked up a 12-0 season and a second straight state championship. Think Shea McClellin, Marsing-style, about nine years ago. Vander Esch, a 6-4, 210-pounder (for now), played quarterback, middle linebacker and kicker. On offense he was responsible for 68 Salmon River touchdowns last year. Vander Esch had eight TDs in the Savages’ 66-26 rout of Council in the state title game on the blue turf in November. Prediction: he’ll earn a scholarship before too terribly long.”

Cedrick Wilson is still on the board. The former Boise State star is expected to be a middle-round guy tomorrow. I subscribe to this assessment from an AFC team area scout at “They like him inside his building. He’s a worker and he doesn’t take anything for granted because he had to work his way into this position. He’s self-made. I go to bat for those guys because they never let you down due to football character.” Never underestimate the intangibles—and for Wilson, it’s the penchant for making big plays. Not forgetting his special teams ability, highlighted by the game-changing athletic grab of an onside kick at Colorado State last November.

The Mountain West actually got some respect last night. Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen was taken No. 7 overall by the Buffalo Bills, who traded up to get him while moving past an 11th-hour revelation that he used a racial slur repeatedly in a series of Twitter posts while he was in high school. Buffalo actually seems like a really good fit for Allen, who’s going to take time to develop into an efficient NFL talent. The surprise was San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny, who wasn’t projected to go in the first round but ended up there when Seattle scooped him up with the No. 27 pick. Heaven knows the Seahawks need help with their ground game. Penny was the second running back selected behind Saquon Barkley.

The Idaho Steelheads will face Colorado one more time before the Eagles move up to the American Hockey League next season. The Steelheads and Eagles meet in the ECHL Mountain Division Finals—the series begins in Loveland with Game 1 tomorrow night. Colorado is the defending Kelly Cup champion and would like nothing better than to exit the league with another trophy. But the Steelies are still riding adrenalin after joining Cincinnati as the only teams in the ECHL’s 30-year history to overcome a three games-to-none deficit with a 4-1 victory over Allen Wednesday night. Philippe Desrosiers has been trememndous between the pipes, stopping 32 shots in Game 7 and racking up a save percentage of .957 over four consecutive wins.

Troy Merritt and playing partner Brendon de Jonge of Zimbabwe are tied for third among 80 teams going into the second round of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. It’s a one-of-a-kind tournament, as last year it switched from stroke-play to a two-man team event, with two rounds each of foursome and four-ball play. Merritt and de Jonge came in at 10-under 62 yesterday. Elsewhere, Boise’s Maddie Sheils is playing her second LPGA Tour event of the season, the MediHeal Championship in San Francisco. Sheils carded a four-over 76 in yesterday and will need a lights-out round today to make the cut.

Around the horn on campus, the Boise State women’s softball team has quietly compiled a solid 2018 season. The Broncos, in second place in the Mountain West, begin a three-game series against first-place Fresno State today at Dona Larsen Park, and a sweep would give them the conference lead. Boise State is 32-13 and is on a five-game winning streak. It’s Mountain West tournament time in tennis, and the Bronco men saw their season end with a 4-2 loss to Utah State yesterday in San Diego. The women’s champioinships are being hosted by Boise State at the Appleton Center, and the Broncos advanced yesterday with a 4-3 win over Colorado State Finally, Boise State hosts the Border Clash, its lone outdoor home track and field meet of the season, today and tomorrow at Dona Larsen Park.

Back to football—Idaho plays its annual Silver and Gold Game tonight in the Kibbie Dome, with opportunities abounding on offense. Not only does the quarterback battle continue between Colton Richardson and Mason Petrino, the guys they throw to will be under the microscope. With Reuben Mwehla, Alfonso Onunwor and Jacob Sannon gone, senior David Ungerer is the top receiver returning after catching 39 passes for 432 yards and six touchdowns last season. Junior Jante Boston made four grabs in 10 games last year, and that’s it for experience. The Vandals will be looking to junior college transfers Ariyon Huff and Steavenson Fernand to contribute immediately.

This Day In Sports…April 27, 2016:

Reports surface and are subsequently confirmed that the University of Idaho football program will end its FBS affiliation and return to the Big Sky, effective with the 2018 season. The official announcement would come the next day at a press conference. The previous month, the Sun Belt had declined to extend the football-only contracts of Idaho and New Mexico State beyond 2017. The Vandals would thus become the first team ever to drop from the FBS to the FCS since the latter’s inception as Division I-AA in 1978. Idaho had moved to Division I-A in 1996, but conference stability was a constant problem. The Vandals also logged only two winning seasons in the FBS in the new century.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)