Oklahoma Drill  

 

Leighton Vander Esch on eight-man football, Luke Kuechly

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NFL Media's Oklahoma Drill series presents exclusive, quick-hitting one-on-one interviews with players and coaches from around the league. No nonsense -- just football experiences directly from the source.

Leighton Vander Esch

Inside linebacker, Boise State

Experience: 2018 NFL Draft prospect

Interview by Brooke Cersosimo | March 22, 2017

[Eight-man football] teaches you to be a well-rounded player. You gotta play multiple positions, and you're not really just confined to one position. I was playing both sides of the ball. I played quarterback on offense and middle linebacker on defense, and I was still moving around quite a bit. I played some receiver, tight end, safety, all that stuff. It teaches you to really learn the aspects of all the positions and be able to play everywhere.

Other than playing in the box, even going back to eight-man, I can play anywhere [an NFL team] wants me to play, whether that's rushing off the edge, playing outside linebacker, everything. I can play multiple positions on the field, and I'd feel completely confident and comfortable in every situation.

Luke Kuechly. I feel like we're really similar in the way we play. He's always around the ball, and I take pride in doing that, as well. You can never really count me out, and I'm always going to do everything I possibly can to get there. You can just tell the way he plays that he prepares himself and knows what's coming on the field. I take great pride in that, as well.

You have to be able to cover everything sideline to sideline and be able to make plays, drop either way. That's what makes [playing middle linebacker] difficult. You can get things from every angle of the field.

The whole [combine] week was very successful, and I took away so much from everything -- from the interviews, side testing and the amount of time being stressed under that amount of pressure, keeping it cool and focused and disciplined through it all. Then, going out there and showcasing everything on the field that last day. You gotta find every way you possibly can to get yourself going. It was a really enjoyable experience, and I took a ton away from there.

We're still discussing and trying to come to a conclusion about what I'm going to do at my pro day.

I have 10 total scheduled visits [with NFL teams]. It's pretty busy going from here to there, and I'm pretty booked from now until the draft.

It's neat meeting all the head coaches, defensive coordinators and linebacker coaches. The array of people all around the league you meet and comparing the facilities, it's neat.

It would be awesome to play anywhere, honestly. At that point in the first round, the type of program the Steelers have and what their defense is known for, that's tremendous to even think about [being a "great fit" for Pittsburgh, per Mike Mayock]. It's really going to tell a lot come draft day.

[Going to Boise State] wasn't that big of an adjustment for me. I just had to develop myself physically and mentally to catch up to the speed of the game.

I would've started toward the middle or end of [the 2016] season, but I had a small injury in there. ... The whole time I was at Boise, there were a ton of upperclassmen. They were all great players, and that's not an excuse for me to not play or start, but that had a lot to do with it.

This year, I got better and better in every single game. It's just the tip of the iceberg with me coming out.

My linebackers coach at Boise, Andy Avalos. He's been a big part in my development the entire time I've been at Boise. He's like a father figure to me. [He's told me] you gotta prepare yourself as best you can for this opportunity. You can always prepare better, and just when you think you've prepared enough, it's not enough. That's just going to set you up for more success.

I'm a big hunter and fisher. I grew up in Riggins [Idaho], and it's a pretty outdoorsy town. Hunting and fishing has been a pretty big part of my life.

[I want to sack] Tom Brady. Watching him play, I mean, the guy is miraculous. Playing against someone like him would be crazy. Just thinking about it would be pretty awesome.

I didn't have a favorite [NFL] team growing up. Where I grew up, everyone was split between Seahawks and Broncos. I followed more Boise and enjoyed watching the NFL in general.

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