MAN ON A MISSION: Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch battling for starting role

Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch practices during training camp in Oxnard, California.
Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch practices during training camp in Oxnard, California. (KSAT)

OXNARD, California – Leighton Vander Esch is fighting for his future in football with the Dallas Cowboys, and he knows it.

But the major difference between this year’s camp and previous years: he’s healthy.

“I feel the best right now than in the last four years during training camp. I think it’s just a testament to the work I put in during the off season,” Vander Esch said. “Last offseason I was coming off my neck [injury] so I couldn’t train as much. But even then, I should have trained more. This off season, it was go time from the second the season was over for me. I was on that mission that I said I was going to be on.”

His ‘Man on a Mission’ mentality could have easily been fueled by the fact the Cowboys declined to pick up the fifth year of his rookie contract. Vander Esch has only played in 19 games over the last two seasons, after participating in all 16 games his rookie season. Dallas also used their first pick of this year’s draft on a linebacker -- Micah Parsons -- which just ratchets up the pressure to perform in 2021.

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“You have to prove yourself every year. You have to prove yourself every snap. Otherwise you ain’t going to last long.”

One of the biggest reasons Vander Esch enters this season in new form is his diet. He has limited his intake of sugar through sodas and alcohol, while also giving up some of his favorite foods. That includes Raising Canes.

“That’s a tough one,” Vander Esch admitted. “But I still love it. I still eat it. That’s like a cheat day something for me.”

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About the Authors:

Greg Simmons is the sports director and a sports anchor for KSAT 12.

Andrew has covered athletics of all levels for more than five years and is dedicated to shining a spotlight on local San Antonio athletes and their stories.