The essence of Leighton Vander Esch

As the countdown ensues to tonight’s first round of the NFL Draft, Andy Benoit has penned a Sports Illustrated feature on Boise State’s Leighton Vander Esch after a visit to the family property in Riggins. Benoit didn’t let on that he’s from Boise and knows all about Riggins. He wrote it like an outsider, and that’s a good thing. The story explains Vander Esch’s Salmon River lifestyle, particularly skeet shooting, and his home, which is decorated with hunting trophies and Bronco memorabilia.

From a football perspective, Benoit’s piece contains a couple of cool sidebars, like, “the first time Vander Esch started a game against an 11-man offense was as a junior at Boise State; his first NFL start will be just his 15th ever against an 11-man offense.” That is unbelievable when you consider there are 250,000 high school players every year, and only 32 of them become first-round draft picks. “Playing eight-man football, Vander Esch says, was actually a huge help in his development,” writes Benoit. “With six fewer bodies on the field, the ball gets into the open field much easier—as a result, plays unfold faster, and defensive fundamentals become critical, as so many tackles occur in space. Also, small rosters force boys to play offense AND defense. There’s more demand on endurance and durability.”

Vander Esch will be surrounded by his inner circle tonight in Dallas. According to Benoit, that includes Maddy Tucker, his girlfriend of two years, Maddy’s parents, Leighton’s parents, all four siblings and their significant others, Leighton’s aunt from Iowa, his high school coach Charlie Shepherd, best friend Little Charlie Shepherd (the coach’s son), Susan Shepherd, his college roommate and Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos. Amd we know Bronco coach Bryan Harsin and associate athletic director Brad Larrondo are down there, too. Fingers crossed that Vander Esch will indeed go in the first round—most mock drafts have him there, but not all.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have come up with a tag-team mock draft, alternating picks for all 32 teams in the first three rounds of the draft. Kiper went first, and he still forecasts Wyoming’s Josh Allen to go No. 1 overall tonight to the Cleveland Browns. It was also Kiper’s turn at No. 31, and that’s where he slotted Vander Esch—with the New England Patriots. “Vander Esch is the type of supreme athlete that Bill Belichick loves to coach up,” writes Kiper. “Put him inside, put him outside—just get him on the field.”

The duo sees the Mountain West’s first pick in the second round to be not San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny, but Nevada offensive lineman Austin Corbett, going to Cincinnati. In the third round, McShay pegs Penny as a New York Jet and fellow Aztec Kameron Kelly, a safety, as a San Francisco 49er. Kiper rounds it out with Colorado State wide receiver Michael Gallup going to the New Orleans Saints in the third. That’s six Mountain West players in the first three rounds—two of them in the first round. The only two first-rounders the conference has had in the seven seasons since Boise State has been a member were both Broncos: Doug Martin and Shea McClellin in 2012.

Nothin’ like a Game 7 in hockey. The record will show that the Idaho Steelheads beat the Allen Americans 4-1 last night to advance in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. But it was far more intense than that. The Steelheads, trying to become only the second team in ECHL history to overcome a three games-to-none deficit in the playoffs, played incredibly hard the first two periods in taking a 2-0 lead. Then the desperate Americans pulled to within a goal when they finally pierced Philippe Desrosiers with a shot that clanged off the post and into the net with 13:40 left in the game. The puck was in the Steelies’ zone most of the final five minutes, but Idaho fought off every Allen advance. Two empty-net goals in the last 32 seconds sealed it, and the Steelheads advance last the first round for the first time since 2014.

One incoming, one outgoing on the Mountain West basketball front. Nevada, which has lived on transfers in the Eric Musselman era, has picked up grad transfer Trey Porter from Old Dominion. Porter, a 6-10 center who began his career at George Mason, averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game last season. And Prentiss Nixon, Colorado State’s leading scorer last season, has decided to finish his career at Iowa State. Nixon announced his intention to transfer earlier this month. He was one of the most outward supporters of deposed CSU coach Larry Eustachy.

Meridian’s Troy Merritt tees off this afternoon at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, where he logged a top 25 finish a year ago. The former Boise State star is currently No. 138 in FedExCup standings—there’s still plenty of time for him to work his way above the PGA Tour end-of-season cut line at No. 125. On the women’s side, Boise’s Maddie Sheils has made it into her second LPGA Tour event this season. A spot opened up at the LPGA MediHeal Championship in San Francisco when Hyo Joo Kim was forced to withdraw due to an ear infection. The Bishop Kelly grad missed the cut two weeks ago at the LOTTE Championship.

On the campus cruise, the Boise State women’s tennis won the de facto Mountain West divisional championship by going undefeated against conference rivals. Now the Broncos go for the real hardware as they host the Mountain West Women’s Championships for the first time beginning today. Boise State is the No. 6 seed but has won five straight matches going into its tournament opener versus Colorado State this afternoon at the Appleton Tennis Center. The Bronco men and coach Greg Patton open the Mountain West tourney against Utah State and coach Clancy Shields, the former Boise State star, this morning in San Diego.

This Day In Sports…April 26, 2008, 10 years ago today:

Ryan Clady makes Boise State history by becoming the school’s first-ever first-round pick in the NFL Draft. Clady was selected No. 12 overall by Denver, with coach Mike Shanahan immediately anointing him as the Broncos’ starting left tackle. Clady, who started every game of his college career, had left BSU following his junior year after being named the school’s first consensus Division I-A All-American. Cornerback Orlando Scandrick also passed up his senior season at Boise State to enter the NFL Draft, and he was selected in the fifth round by the Dallas Cowboys.

(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.)