It's official. Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will forgo his final season of eligibility and declare for the NFL Draft.

The Riggins native announced his decision on Twitter on Thursday morning.

"It has been the honor of my life to play for the team I always grew up following. I would have given anything to have had this opportunity," wrote Vander Esch. "Because my love for Boise State runs so deep, this was the most difficult decision of my life. I feel now is the best time for me to pursue another childhood dream - playing in the National Football League."

In his first season as a full-time starter, Vander Esch won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors. He also claimed Defensive MVP honors in both the Mountain West Football Championship Game and the Las Vegas Bowl.

Vander Esch racked up 141 tackles this season, the third most in program history, and the most by a Bronco in 29 years. He also had 8.5 tackles-for-loss, 4.0 sacks, 4 forced fumbles 3 interceptions.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound junior is the first player in the FBS to declare early for the NFL Draft following a season with 140-plus tackles and 3-plus interceptions since former Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly did it in 2011. Kuechly – a 5-time NFL Pro Bowler – ended up getting drafted 9th overall by the Carolina Panthers in 2012.

Vander Esch originally came to Boise State as a walk-in in 2014. He redshirted that initial year but was still put on scholarship the following season.

"Idaho will always be my home, and I will be a Bronco until the day I die," Vander Esch stated. "I especially want to thank Coach Harsin and Coach Avalos for giving me the opportunity to be part of this team, and for allowing me a chance to chase and fulfill something that no one expects out of someone from small town Idaho.”


This is the fifth straight season a Bronco has declared early for the NFL Draft

2013: DE – DeMarcus Lawrence, Cowboys (2nd round, 34th overall)

2014: RB – Jay Ajayi, Dolphins (5th round, 149th overall)

2015: LB – Kamalei Correa (2nd round, 42nd overall)

2016: RB – Jeremy McNichols (5th round, 162nd overall)

2017: LB – Leighton Vander Esch (TBA)

WATCH LIVE at 11 a.m. - Boise State's news conference on early signing