Dallas Cowboys

Rising fame isn’t changing Dallas Cowboys rookie LB Leighton Vander Esch

There were more media members surrounding Leighton Vander Esch at his locker earlier this week than played on his eight-man high school football team.

Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys’ first round pick in April’s draft, isn’t completely new to the spotlight. But after playing a tad under the radar at Boise State, the 22-year-old rookie is now a starting linebacker for America’s Team. And not only that, he’s a fast-rising star.

After making several highlight-reel plays recently, including one against the Falcons in which he basically took down a blocker and a runner in the same tackle, the attention is starting to build. Playing for the Cowboys intrinsically brings a certain level of fame. Becoming a Cowboys’ star takes it to another level. Consecutive weeks on national television won’t hurt either, beginning with Thanksgiving Day against the Washington Redskins followed by a Thursday night game against the New Orleans Saints.

“It’s what comes with being part of this organization. You play good, the attention is going to come,” Vander Esch said. “You have to be used to it in a way and kind of just ignore it, whether it’s good or bad. Just put it to the side and be yourself.”

Cowboys’ quarterback Dak Prescott, who is a natural communicator and at ease in front of a camera, said Vander Esch won’t be fazed by the rising fame.

“He’ll be fine. I just know the type of guy Leighton is,” Prescott said. “I know from just watching him and being around him he knows his priorities.”

Vander Esch has been fine handling the media during his first training camp and early in the season. But he wasn’t hounded as much early when Sean Lee was playing and Jaylon Smith, who is also playing well in his third year in the league. That is starting to change, however, with Lee out with a hamstring injury. Vander Esch views the extra media demand as part of the job.

“You’ve got to do it anyway. It comes with it,” he said. “You don’t let it bother you. Just doing it and getting it over with and taking care of it. Then move on to the next day and take care of your business.”

Vander Esch’s low-key approach earned respect from the team’s veterans during training camp. And even with his fame shooting up, he’s still the same guy in the room.

“I don’t think there’d be anyone else with a better makeup for it,” guard Zack Martin said. “He’s as humble as they come. As a rookie, you come in, you keep your mouth shut and play hard and he does that. He’s all over the place on the field making huge plays for us but you’d never really know it with the way he carries himself, which is awesome.”

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