A Family Affair

Sports is one of those things that unites a small town since it’s pretty much the only thing to do.

I’m from Wiggins, Colorado – a town of 800 people. Pretty sure that counts as small right?

No? How about a graduating class of 28 people?

Growing up, everyone either ranches or farms. There are about 150 houses, and everybody knows everybody. You can wave to everybody in Wiggins, it’s like one big family.

Because sports was one of the things that brought us all together, I always loved the Denver Broncos, Colorado State Rams, Colorado Buffaloes. Anyone that played football, I was watching them every second I could.

My father was always the one who pushed me to play sports, as well as my four brothers who all played football.

For motivation though, it always really came from my older brothers, constantly pushing me to get better and play on their level.

We were also very lucky to have our father as our head coach as well, from pee wee all the way through high school.

But don’t get things mixed up.

He wasn’t one of those coaches that would let us off easy because we were his sons, that’s for sure. If anything, he just pushed us harder because we represented our family, and what we were all about.

We all played together as well, so it was kind of just a family affair.  

It was the same thing with my teammates. The guys I graduated with – not only did I play with them in peewees, but they were also the kids I worked on the farm every summer. We only had 4-5 classrooms so you saw them all the time in school.

Even though I grew up in this small town, I’ve had huge dreams for the next level, and I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me what I can and can’t do. Since I started playing, there was only one thing on my mind: Getting a college scholarship and finding a path to the NFL.

My sophomore summer is when I truly realized that this big dream was actually possible.

Coming from a small school like Wiggins, you have to work really hard to get exposure. I’m the first one to come out of there, and no college had come through Wiggins to scout talent before.

That junior season was a breakout year for me, and I ended up getting about 15 offers from Division 1 universities. It’s difficult to put words on the feeling, but all I can say is it was pretty special for me and the community.

It was actually pretty hilarious, too.

I’d be sitting in class, and the principal would announce over the loudspeaker “Dalton, Stanford University is here,” and there would be these D1 coaches in the Wiggins High School conference room with championship rings and fur coats.

It felt really cool to make people come to our town to see me.

How I ended up at Kansas State was a similar scenario. I came out to the camps several times as well, trying to impress the staff and earn a spot on the roster.

I did so well that I ended up catching the eye of the man who is now our Tight End coach – Zach Hanson. He just told me, “Good Job.” but later I saw him tell (Offensive Line) coach Charley Dickey and he wrote my name down.

Well, he wrote something down……

But I still like to think it was my name.

A big reason I chose K-State is that Coach Dickey was who told me “With your character, I think you’ll be a 3-year captain and a 4-year starter for us.”

I hadn’t heard that from any other coach. For someone to believe in me, from such a small town, that was really big.

Immediately, I knew I had found my future home.

Coming in, things weren’t easy though. They had an old senior line, especially at center, so I was tagged a redshirt pretty quickly.

That year was anything but easy.

I was very behind in terms of physicality and technique coming from such a small high school. A lot of guys there came from 5A or 6A schools in Texas, which are almost like small colleges. It was a long year with a lot of working out physically, and also mentally in the film room a lot.

It was a huge wake-up call for me.

At Wiggins, I was the biggest, the fastest, the strongest, but that wasn’t the case anymore. Going from top dog to just another player was a learning experience in itself. But that’s why I put in the work.

That’s actually why the next season felt like such a long payoff.

There was a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in that first year and offseason, but by the end, I was starting in our opening game.

They demanded a lot out of me, but I wanted to show I belonged. It was one of the most fun and rewarding seasons I’ve had here. When I doubted myself, my coach told me “If I didn’t believe in you, I wouldn’t play you.” He knew what I was capable of, and that came me a lot of confidence going out.

Of course, going back and watching those films now, I shake my head a lot. But that was still a really fun year and one that shaped who I am today.

Especially when that next year was equally as hard.

Moving from center to tackle, it felt like I was learning a whole new sport. I would watch our tackles on film or in practice and think “There’s no way I could block that D-End,” or “I don’t even know what a kick slide is!”

I might not have been comfortable with it, but I knew I had to help the team. This was my family, so I was willing to pull my weight wherever that happened to be.

I wasn’t the most technique-savvy guy or the strongest, but I knew that I was going to compete and it would be hard to beat me. After practice, coach told me I would be an All-Big 12 Tackle that year.

I kind of brushed it off, but I felt blessed to have our group continue to believe in me.

Since then, I’ve been our Right Tackle. There’s been countless ups and downs, but sure enough, I was an All-Big 12 Tackle that next season, and I’ve been in love with the position ever since.

This past season, I had a shoulder injury which was bugging me for longer than a lot of people thought. I’m the type of guy that will try to play with whatever I have going on, but eventually, I had to get it fixed.

As a result, I had a lot of people start talking about heading to the NFL early. People from every angle were trying to explain what was the smartest decision, which was a huge distraction.

And the worst part was, it made me distracted from my number one focus, our team.

I talked with my family about the decision and thought about where I was in life. I didn’t have a family to support, I didn’t have a reason to run off, and I was already graduated. But what I did have was a team that needed me and a community I wanted to continue to build at K-State.

I wanted to leave a legacy here, both on the field and off of it. Whether it was helping out through community service, or captaining our team for another year, I knew I still had work to do.

And today, I can say I’m very happy I stayed.

No matter what the next chapter has in store for me, I’m happy with my time here at Kansas State. I’ve done my best to continue to try and make this family proud, so I’m not concerned if I’m a first rounder or undrafted.

I’ve done my job.

So just remember, whatever God’s plan for you are, this whole football thing ends one day. Always remember why you play this game and the family you do it for, not just your performance on the field.

It ended for Brett Favre, it’s going to end for Tom Brady, and someday it’s going to end for me as well. But I know that my impact will go beyond the game of football, playing with the family of people I’ve got around me as the goal.

Dalton Risner | Contributor

Kansas State, Offensive Line