To understand who Dalton Risner is and the values that led him to choose Kansas State, where he is now arguably the face of the football program and certainly one of the best offensive linemen in the country, one needs an appreciation for Risner’s roots in Wiggins, Colorado, a small town that fewer than 900 people called home in the most recent census.
There, Risner played for his father, Mitch, at Wiggins High School, where was named one of the Denver Post’s top-25 players in the state during the 2013 season, among other accolades.
But to hear Mitch tell it, what his son valued most about his hometown, and what he was looking for in the college team he signed with, was something else.
“He wanted to play for a town and a support system that was like Wiggins,” Mitch Risner said. “A small town. Signs are up in the windows — ‘Gone to the game.’ Everybody’s wearing the colors.”
So it makes sense that on a winter afternoon in 2012, at Kite’s Bar and Grill in Aggieville, Dalton Risner more or less made the decision to sign with K-State.
It started innocuously: a father-son lunch during a break in Risner’s Junior Day visit to Manhattan. The TVs lining the walls in the wood-paneled building showed the K-State basketball team’s road contest against Baylor, standard fodder for an Aggieville restaurant at that time of year.
Yet something happened on that afternoon.
“We started to notice all this purple,” Mitch Risner said. “2-year-olds, to 22-year-olds, to 42-year-olds, to 102-year-olds — everybody was wearing purple. Everybody and their businesses was supporting purple and K-State.
“Dalton looked at me right then in the restaurant and said, ‘This is who I want to play for.’”
Six years later, with his senior season less than a week away, Dalton Risner has maintained these same beliefs, while ascending into one of the most recognizable faces on the K-State roster, if not the nation.
And it’s for good reason.
A towering figure at 6-foot-5 and 308 pounds, Risner, 22, started all 12 regular-season games last season at right tackle, earning first team All-American honors from Pro Football Focus and second-team honors from CBS Sports. According to Pro Football Focus, last year Risner allowed only three quarterback pressures, the fewest among 2018 draft-eligible tackles.
Risner, who has started 38 career games and did not allow his quarterback to be hit once a season ago, also made both USA Today and ESPN’s preseason All-America teams. But Risner’s trophy case also includes nominations in both 2017 and 2018 to the AFCA Good Works team, honoring student-athletes who “demonstrate a unique dedication to community service and desire to make a positive impact on the lives around them,” per its website.
Perhaps Risner, who is projected by several media outlets as a lock in next year’s NFL draft, values these accolades as much as the ones he has earned for his imposing pass protection.
To wit: Risner volunteers with Manhattan’s Big Lakes Developmental Center, which provides helpful services and programs to those with developmental and intellectual disabilities. He also helps out with the Manhattan Special Olympics.
It doesn’t stop there. Risner hosts an online video series called “Rise Up,” on which the communication studies major shares inspirational messages and what’s been on his mind. In his most recent video, Risner introduced his audience to Mike Carpenter, a special needs man Risner met through his involvement with Big Lakes.
“I love Mike so much,” Risner said. “I think that we should be a lot more like those guys with special needs. They’re always honest. They don’t care about what anyone thinks about them. They always tell the truth, and they’re nice to people. They care for others. I think we could learn a thing or two from them.”
Those around him have taken notice. A three-time team captain, Risner’s teammates say they look to him for advice and inspiration, which he freely offers. He has amassed more than 4,000 Twitter followers.
K-State coach Bill Snyder knows just how much of an influence his fifth-year senior has made on the team and the community.
“I think the other thing,” Snyder said at Big 12 Media Days in July, “is Dalton is a young guy ... who’s such a good person and has a genuine concern about others. That’s the award he’s been recognized with, and he’s very deserving, because he’s a young guy who cares about others.”
Perhaps this is where Risner runs into a catch-22: He cares so much about others that he has earned individual recognition for doing so.
Yet Risner might not have learned to value the practice of investing in others without the guidance of his father.
The two talk nearly every day — “if not every day, then every other day,” Mitch said — and discuss matters both lighthearted and serious, about what each is doing tomorrow and what life may look like if Risner makes the NFL, an opportunity he turned down in April in order to return to college.
Mitch Risner says watching his son play professional football is a possibility so real he “doesn’t even believe it’s real,” but the draft won’t take place until next April.
In between is Dalton Risner’s senior year, which Mitch says accounts for a healthy number of the conversations he shares with his son.
“If the NFL is there for him at the end of the year, then we’ll go pursue the NFL,” Mitch Risner said. “But that’s not the mission right now, and it’s not why we wake up every day, and it’s not what we think about.
“The second part of that is you’ve got to continue to be humble and treat people around you amazing and leave a legacy. What Dalton and I mean by leaving a legacy is positively impacting people along the way. I know how important it is to him to have that foundation, that underpinning outside of football.”
Risner said he knows that he won’t always be able to consider himself a star student-athlete. And after suffering a shoulder injury that sidelined him for K-State’s Cactus Bowl win over UCLA last December, he has first-hand knowledge.
This is why he volunteers, why he records regular inspirational videos, why he even helped out over the summer in Claflin with Camp Hope, a non-profit organization “whose goal is to improve the health of children and adolescents with cancer,” per its website.
It’s a not-so-small part of what makes Dalton Risner, well, Dalton Risner.
“Football is just a sport with a leather ball,” Risner said. “It’s taught me so much about life, and I value the sport so much, but it will end someday for every single person. You can be a Hall of Famer, but football will end.
“The interviews, the accolades, the amazing things, all the fans wanting to talk to you, and you being in a college town, and you’re the man everywhere — that kind of stuff can get to your head, and if you lose that all of a sudden, you can go off the deep end. So a big thing for me is being able to realize, hey, I’ve got a lot going for me other than football, so if that were to end with a season-ending injury, or if that were to end after college, not being able to play NFL ball, I’m going to be just fine.”