Everybody’s favorite Dallas Cowboy, Leighton Vander Esch, was a guest on “Mock Draft Live” Thursday on NFL Network, and subject No. 1 was the fact that just a year ago, he was prepping for his Pro Day at Boise State. “I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately,” said Vander Esch. “I can’t believe how fast time has gone—and just thinking about everything that has happened since then, and how much work went into it. It puts a smile on my face every time.” You know what’s happened since then. Vander Esch logged 138 tackles, the most by a Cowboys rookie in 41 years. He added two interceptions and seven pass breakups. LVE knows he set the bar high for himself. “Now it’s preparing for your second season, and there’s a lot to live up to,” he said. “You’ve got to do everything you can to go get it again.”
Vander Esch apparently conducted the interview in Riggins. I’m impressed that NFL Network went to the trouble to get a live shot out of there. What’s he been doing during the offseason? “I put a weight room in here at the high school,” said Vander Esch for those that hadn’t heard. “I just got done working out there this morning.” He’s spent a lot of time back home and has been all about Salmon River High, attending the girls state basketball tournament last month as the school’s most popular fan.
FAR-OFF BRANCHES OF THE BRONCO COACHING TREE
Catching up on stories of mentorship this month involving Boise State. The first is Eli Drinkwitz, the former Bronco offensive coordinator who is now the new head coach at Sun Belt power Appalachian State. A profile by Chris Vannini of The Athletic had Drinkwitz praising Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin, two coaches he worked for, and Chris Petersen, who has given him advice, as “three guys who have been good to me.” Harsin brought Drinkwitz aboard for his one year at Arkansas State in 2013, and Drinkwitz followed Harsin to Boise. “Coach Harsin, in our evaluations (at Arkansas State), asked me what my goals were,” said Drinkwitz. “I hadn’t really thought about it. He said, ‘Eli, you need to write down your goals.’ I wrote down that I’d like to be a college head coach. And it turned out.”
The other is one-time Boise State center Klayton Adams, who’s the new assistant offensive line coach for the Indianapolis Colts. Adams’ direct mentor is his O-line boss in Indy, former Bronco offensive line coach Chris Strausser. “It started off as me being a walk-on offensive lineman at Boise State, and really having only one person that believed in me,” Adams said in a story by Joel Erickson of theIndianapolis Star. “That was (Strausser). He kept giving me reps and kept helping me get better.” Strausser was the one who convinced Adams to get into coaching. The two were able to meet periodically when Strausser was coaching for Denver and Adams was on the staff at Colorado. Adams says Colts head coach Frank Reich reminds him a bit of Coach Pete.
HEFF IS A THUNDERWOLF
Had to be a tough decision for Will Heffner to leave Boise State. He grew up with the Broncos, graduating from Bishop Kelly before walking on with the program. And Heffner’s dad, Terry, was a starting wide receiver for Boise State 30 years ago. But the younger Heffner will enjoy the uptick in playing time he’ll receive with the ThunderWolves of CSU-Pueblo, the Division II school he’ll transfer into. The last memory we’ll have of Heffner is the near-miss on his attempted tackle of Fresno State’s Ronnie Rivers on the final overtime play of the Mountain West championship game. But that doesn’t negate the contributions he made on defense and special teams during his three seasons as a Bronco.
NO. 40 IN THE STEELIES’ SIGHTS
The Idaho Steelheads go for their 40th win of the season tonight when they host Rapid City in CenturyLink Arena. The Steelheads are in position for home ice advantage through the first two rounds of the Kelly Cup Playoffs next month, but Tulsa is, too. The Steelies have five games to play and are one point up on the Oilers in the ECHL Mountain Division. Tulsa, however, has seven games left. One of the hottest Steelheads right now is Will Merchant, who scored the team’s first goal in Wednesday night’s 5-3 loss to the Rush and now has points in each of the last five games. The 25-year-old forward has accumulated 22 points in 57 games for Idaho this season.
LOTSA BOISE ALUMS FOR CUBS
When you talk about former Boise Hawks in the majors, you still start with the Chicago Cubs. Seven ex-Hawks played for the Cubs on Opening Day at Texas on Thursday, and six of them had hits in a 12-4 romp over the Rangers. Javier Baez clubbed two home runs while knocking in four runs, and Kris Bryant added a two-run homer. The other alums on the field were Albert Almora Jr., Willson Contreras, David Bote, Mark Zagunis and Kyle Schwarber.
VANDALS GO 2-1 IN THE WNIT
The Idaho women gave Arizona a good go in the round of 16 of the WNIT Thursday night in Tucson before falling 68-60. Taylor Pierce led the Vandals with 20 points, and fellow senior star Mikayla Ferenz put up 10 points. Boise High grad Izzy Hadden contributed six off the bench. Idaho got into the WNIT on an automatic bid after winning the Big Sky regular season title and being upset in the first quarterfinals of the conference tournament at CenturyLink Arena. The Vandals finished the season at 22-12. Wyoming, who lost to Boise State in the Mountain West championship game, advanced to the final eight of the WNIT Thursday night by edging Pepperdine 61-60. The Cowgirls now face Arizona.
This Day In Sports…brought to you by ZAMZOWS…Nobody Knows Like Zamzows!
March 29, 2014, five years ago today: The Philadelphia 76ers avoid infamy—kind of. The Sixers routed the Detroit Pistons, 123-98, to end a 26-game losing streak. Philly hadn’t won in two months and two days earlier had tied the NBA record for futility, Cleveland’s string of 26 straight losses in 2010-11. One more defeat would have broken the record for the longest losing streak in all major American professional sports (the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers also lost 26 games in a row in 1976 and 1977).
(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.)