FRISCO, Texas — The news of Leighton Vander Esch being done for the season broke on Tuesday as the Dallas Cowboys lost a key part of their defense both on the field and off of it.
Wednesday served as the first opportunity for players to speak on Vander Esch's status, as his scary neck injury has everyone – both inside the building and out – praying for his overall health over anything else.
"We're fathers, brothers, sons," safety Jayron Kearse said. "This is a small portion of our life when it comes down to playing this sport. We've been playing for so long, but the amount of years spent playing football, you're gonna have many more years where you're not playing football. There's a lot of different things you have to think about when it comes down to it."
Despite being done for the season, Vander Esch will continue to contribute off the field in any capacity as he has been on the sideline for each game since his injury and has been able to speak wisdom into everyone on the defense, specifically linebackers Damone Clark and Markquese Bell.
"Leighton has always been in meetings with us," Clark said. "He's always got a message to send in the group message [still after the injury]. Leighton is still pouring his heart out on the sideline for us and pointing out things that he's seeing and being a coach on the sideline for us."
For veterans that saw Vander Esch come into the league in 2018 and rise to the solidified piece on the defense that he became, it's tough losing a presence that has become such a big part of what the Cowboys do defensively.
"It's hard to lose a brother like Leighton," defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. "He's someone that we rely on each and every day, especially as a MIKE backer. Definitely gotta show our gratitude for him and what he did for us last year. We're still with him and he's still with us in spirit. We're praying for him to continue to get better."
The support that has been poured into Vander Esch by his teammates directly reflects the support that he has put into various members of the defense since his arrival as the team rallies around him.
"I'm gonna support him, because that was a guy that was with me every step of the way when I was rehabbing coming off my neck injury," Clark said. "He said, 'Don't worry about me. I'm gonna be straight.' That just speaks to the type of warrior he is. He's going to help us."
"I talk to Leighton all the time. I look up to Leighton. That's someone that does everything the right way. To me, that's way more important than the football player. Even if I never play another down with Leighton, that's my brother."