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Leighton Vander Esch retires from football

FRISCO, Texas - Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is retiring from professional football after suffering a serious neck injury while playing for the Dallas Cowboys in 2023.

The Cowboys released the 28-year-old Vander Esch last week.

<div>ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 01: Leighton Vander Esch #55 of the Dallas Cowboys rushes the passer at AT&T Stadium on October 1, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)</div>
ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 01: Leighton Vander Esch #55 of the Dallas Cowboys rushes the passer at AT&T Stadium on October 1, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

The linebacker has dealt with injuries in recent seasons, including neck injuries in 2019 and 2023.

"I love the game of football so much, and my body won't cooperate any longer," Vander Esch said in a statement. "I cherished every moment of my NFL career, and it has been such a blessing to play the game for as long as I have played."

"Seldom do you come across a player like Leighton, who grew up playing eight-man football only to first play the 11-man game at the major collegiate level and excel," said Dallas Cowboys Owner, President and General Manager Jerry Jones in a statement. "His passion and love for the game was contagious, and from the moment he arrived, he has been a difference maker."

"Leighton is exactly the kind of player and person a coach feels very fortunate to have on their team. His leadership, character, perseverance, dedication and will to win were all at the highest level, not to mention his ability to play the game," said Dallas Cowboys Head Coach Mike McCarthy in a statement.

Vander Esch was selected by the Cowboys in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of Boise State.

That season, he set a Cowboys rookie record for tackles in a season by a rookie.

The linebacker was named a second-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler in the 2018 season.