He was still in high school when Brady won his third Super Bowl MVP award when he rallied the Patriots past the Seahawks.
But on Sunday afternoon in Foxboro, the Cowboys linebacker gets to line up against the future Hall of Famer for the first time, marking the culmination of a childhood dream.
"I've been looking forward to it my whole entire life honestly," Vander Esch said, per ESPN's Todd Archer. "I thought about it all the time, even when I was in college, what it would be like to play against him in the NFL just because of his caliber, the reputation he has. Playing a game against guys like that makes you appreciate things."
One of the things Vander Esch has appreciated in watching Brady? His knowledge and how he sees the field, even if the Patriots' offense isn't firing on all cylinders right now.
"He knows exactly where he wants to go with the ball pretty much every time before he snaps the ball," said Vander Esch. "He's got the weapons around him to do it, to make plays. He can get the ball to the backs fast, and they can create something out of nothing. "
A first-round pick in last year's draft, Vander Esch plays a key role on a Dallas defense that ranks seventh this season against the pass. He ranks second on the Cowboys in tackles after finishing third in the NFL a season ago.
So while facing Brady will be a dream come true, it remains to be seen if it'll end up being a nightmare for the 23-year-old.