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Vander Esch Offers Advice to High School Athletes
Taking a break from terrorizing NFL quarterbacks, Leighton Vander Esch talks what it takes to reach the pros
Published: 3/19/2020 4:23:07 PM
Ashley Mayes
Staff Writer

Leighton and Maddy Vander Esch may be living the big life in Dallas, but their down-to-earth lifestyle back home in Riggins, Idaho, has people curious about how they successfully navigate both worlds.  

Being away from the fast pace Dallas offers, the Riggins area lends the pair of former Idaho athletes a place to unwind and do what they love — spend time with family, get outdoors and give back to the community they still call home.  

Both Leighton and Maddy said it was their sports-oriented upbringing and family values that keep them humble and focused on what’s important — working hard, being true to themselves, and serving as positive role models to current student-athletes in the Gem State.  

Both Leighton and Maddy grew up in families where sports afforded them both confidence, self-esteem and the ability to take constructive criticism. For Leighton, he remembers his dad saying, “If you’re going to play sports, do it with your best intentions and to the best of your ability. If you are going to do something you are going to give it all.” 

Maddy, who’s father Levi Tucker works as head basketball coach at Salmon River High School, said it’s all about perspective. 
“Don’t let your highs get too high or your lows get too low,” Maddy said. 

From an early age, Leighton learned how important the relationship is between team success and individual performance. Reflecting on the Savage’s back-to-back 1A Division-II state championships in both basketball and football, he shared a few insights into what made those teams successful. 

“We established a relationship long before we won state championships. And when we were young, we would say out loud, ‘We are going to win a state championship.’  We spoke that into existence,” he said.   

And it's exactly that mentality that has carried Leighton through his years as a walk-on at Boise State University, leading to a first-round selection in the NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. 

While Leighton has his share of high school hardware, Maddy’s contribution to the girls program helped turn Salmon River High School girls sports around.  She acknowledged how important girls sports programs are to positive character building. For her, athletics taught her about “working with others, establishing a work ethic, recovering from losses, building mental toughness and having resilience.” 

“Sports were my livelihood growing up,” she said. “It, in some ways, defined who I was.”

And after forgoing her opportunity to play college ball, Maddy said she realized there’s “much more than just playing sports. Basketball is not forever. That there is so much more.”

For Leighton, the grind continues. In 2020, he’ll be looking to bounce back after recovering from surgery after suffering a neck injury, cutting his second season with the Cowboys short. In terms of what he wants to accomplish in his third season, the answer was simple.  

“Championships. Being the best I can be in my position, being the best leader I can be in my position,” Leighton said.   

As spring sports across the state come to a grinding halt, Leighton said those looking to make an impact in high school athletics have plenty of reasons to keep the dream of going pro alive. 

“I am proof that if you have capabilities, you can do what you want to do,” he said.    

Although Leighton’s NFL journey is still just getting started, he and Maddy said they’ve already got their eye on the next generation of Vander Esch’s. 

“When the dust settles, we want to also settle and have a family someday,” Maddy said. “We are fortunate to be fully invested in our kids one day without having to worry too much about finances.  And we want to make clear to our kids that they can decide what they want to do.  We will support them no matter what they do.”


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