A little more than three years after his all-everything career ended at Salmon River High in Riggins, Leighton Vander Esch steps into his first public appearance as a Boise State captain tonight. In the old days, he’d be spending hot July days rafting the Salmon with his friends. Now Vander Esch is piloting the defense in the Bronco Football Summer Classic softball game at Memorial Stadium. More importantly, he’s been leading the defense all summer during player-run practices. That’s heady stuff for a guy who played eight-man ball and had to go the preferred walk-on route to prove he deserved a scholarship, despite being one of the state’s most decorated 1A athletes ever. But that’s the way it often works for Idahoans.
It was up to Vander Esch to pick the defensive participants in the pregame home run derby tonight. He first chose former minor league baseball player and new Boise State walk-on Mason Smith. “Kind of automatic,” Vander Esch said yesterday on IST. Fellow linebacker Blake Whitlock is his Cinderella participant. “He came out of nowhere and really surprised me,” said Vander Esch. He rounded out his crew with Chase Hatada…and himself. (Did I mention “all-everything?”)
Brett Rypien is captain of the offense tonight, fresh off another watch list mention (for the second straight year, he’s on the list for the Davey O’Brien Award that goes to the nation’s top quarterback). Rypien selected Brock Barr, Ezra Cleveland, Jake Constantine and Alec Dhaenens for the home run derby. His surprise guy is Barr, the senior backup wide receiver. “He showed up at batting practice in jeans and cowboy boots and just started hitting,” Rypien said on IST. “It was pretty sweet.”
A little history here: the softball extravaganza was originally former Bronco quarterback Bush Hamdan’s creation, and over a period of six years it grew into a summer staple. It returned last year after a two-year hiatus. Where else can fans watch these guys interact with their helmets off? Hamdan founded the event as a community service project for Boise State going into his senior year in 2008. Obviously Hamdan has other fish to fry right now, working with Matt Ryan in his new job as quarterbacks coach for the Atlanta Falcons. Tonight’s proceeds will benefit scholarships for at-risk children to participate in Optimist Youth Football.
Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan was named to his first watch list yesterday. The Vandal senior is on the docket for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. Linehan, the reigning Famous Idaho Potato Bowl MVP, is poised to make a serious dent in the Idaho record book this year. After leading the Sun Belt in passing with 3,184 yards in 2016, he’ll enter the season No. 5 in Vandal history with 8,696 career passing yards. He’s sixth all-time with 46 touchdown passes. The Unitas Award is an all-division honor based on accomplishments on and off the field. Candidates must be college seniors or fourth-year juniors on pace to graduate with their classes.
So the Boise Hawks watch Tri-City plate four runs in the top of the first inning last night at Memorial Stadium. The bottom of the frame was quiet. But the way the Hawks have been hitting the ball, well, hold on to your hats. Here comes Hidekel Gonzalez, in his third game after being called up from Grand Junction. In the bottom of the second, Gonzalez hit a grand slam, and Boise exited the inning with a 5-4 lead. A sign of things to come? No. The Dust Devils goose-egged the Hawks the rest of the way and rallied for an 8-5 victory.
Daniel Vogelbach was known for giving baseballs a ride during his one season as a Boise Hawk—he hit 10 home runs in 37 games in 2012. This week Vogelbach is known for getting a ride in a story that’s gone viral. He’s playing for the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers, and he and three other teammates had figured out a way to avoid a 3 a.m. bus ride to Sea-Tac Monday morning for a flight to Albuquerque. They booked a separate flight Sunday night with a connection in Phoenix. But they missed the connecting flight, so they resorted to Uber. Seven hours and $683.52 later, they met up with their teammates at their Albuquerque hotel. Vogelbach and his buds have turned down interview requests about the adventure. Uh, maybe they’re in a little hot water with the M’s organization.
Boise State distance-running star Allie Ostrander keeps hitting new heights, and she has three years left as a Bronco to hit some more. Yesterday Ostrander was named the 2016-17 Mountain West Female Athlete of the Year, the first time a freshman has ever won the honor. It’s the culmination of a truly unique outdoor season. She was already known as an ace in the 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000-meters. But at the end of March, she tried the 3,000-meter steeplechase for the first time—and won it at the Stanford Invitational, clocking the second-fastest time in school history. Then last month, she captured the national title in the event at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene.
The 2017 Idaho Women’s Amateur tees off today at Ridgecrest in Nampa, and there’ll be a new champion this year. Defending champ Brooklyn Hocker of Idaho Falls, a BYU golfer, is not in the field. Last year’s third-place finisher, Sierra Harr of Buhl, is. The one to watch is Caldwell’s Gabby Barker, who’s back after wrapping up her junior year at Texas Tech by competing at the NCAA Championships in May. Barker was the 2013 and 2015 Idaho Women’s Am champion. And oh by the way, she won the 2014 Girls 5A title by 26 strokes for Vallivue High.
This Day In Sports…July 20, 2014:
A few weeks after he considered giving up professional golf during what had been a tough season, veteran Steve Wheatcroft wins the 25th annual Albertsons Boise Open on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff. Wheatcroft and Steven Alker had each gone a record 24-under par at the end of regulation before Wheatcroft dropped in a birdie putt on the first extra hole. The victory vaulted him all the way from 89th to 10th on the Web.com Tour money list and assured him of a PGA Tour card for the following season. Wheatcroft is struggling on the big tour this season—he’s 183rd in FedExCup standings.
(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.)