College football coaches rarely visit Wiggins, Colo. The small town in the northeast quadrant of the Centennial State is home to roughly 900 people and a Class 1A high school. Division I athletes hardly ever come out of such an out-of-the-way place.
Even when a big and talented offensive lineman such as Dalton Risner comes along, it is difficult to get noticed.
“I basically called coaches nonstop every weekend, just bugging them to watch my tape,” Risner said. “A lot of kids hire someone or have people do that for them. I did it myself with the help of my parents.
“I made a list of 25 coaches and I sent them my tape. I called them relentlessly. Some of them wouldn’t answer, so I had to email them over and over just to let them know I’m a Division I player and I’m worth a look.”
That persistence paid off. Not only did Risner convince college coaches to make the trek to Wiggins, he eventually marketed himself into a coveted recruit with 11 scholarship offers. Risner, a 6-foot-5, 300-pounder, is now considered a three-star prospect and the No. 6 rated high school center by Rivals. He has also been invited to play in two national high school all-star games.
On Wednesday, he will fulfill his dream of playing big-time college football when he signs a letter of intent with Kansas State at a ceremony leading up to the International Bowl in Arlington, Texas.
“It’s going to be one of those things I remember for the rest of my life,” Risner said. “All my hard work paid off, and I had a lot of help behind me the whole way. It’s going to mean the world to me when I sign my letter of intent.”
K-State appears to be a perfect match for Risner. In many ways, he personifies the type of recruit that excels under Wildcats coach Bill Snyder.
Risner was overlooked throughout much of the recruiting process and comes to Manhattan ready to prove his doubters wrong. He committed to K-State last March, and has stuck with the Wildcats despite recruiting attempts from other programs.
“I am proud of where I am from. That is one of the biggest chips I have on my shoulder,” Risner said.
When asked to compare himself to a current K-State player, Risner selected junior center B.J. Finney. Risner hopes to follow in the footsteps of Finney, who sat out his first year at K-State but played so well on the scout team that he started the following season. He has been the Wildcats’ starting center ever since.
Risner says he is capable of playing all five positions on the offensive line, which is part of the reason Snyder offered Risner a scholarship immediately after watching him play for the first time at a junior-day workout.
He may compete for playing time on the offensive line as a freshman. But he says the more realistic plan is to redshirt and play center on the scout team. Then, as a redshirt freshman, he will try and take over for Finney after he runs out of eligibility.
“I’m not one of those guys who only wants to play right away,” Risner said. “If I have five years, I might as well take that extra year and get bigger and stronger and learn the program. The idea of being a four-year starter is pretty cool. I would love that. I am just going to work really hard, learn everything I can from B.J. Finney and do whatever my coaches ask.”
No matter where the journey takes him, Risner isn’t worried about adjusting to the college game. Even though he comes from a small high school and has never faced top competition on a regular basis, he excelled at the Offense-Defense Bowl as the starting center.
For him, that experience proved that he was good enough to make the jump from Wiggins to K-State.
“I was nervous, because I’m a 1A guy,” Risner said. “What if I get to K-State and I’m introduced to a whole new level of play and I’m not ready for it? I was worried about that.
“But I got introduced to some of the best players in the nation and had a great experience. I worked hard, studied hard, got to know the coaches and left with a big boost of confidence. I learned that if I stay humble and keep working I can be ready for anything.”