No one cheered louder than Dalton Risner when Morgan Burns returned the opening kickoff of the season 100 yards for a Kansas State touchdown against South Dakota last weekend.
“I was so nervous about that first snap,” Risner said Tuesday. “When Morgan was returning that first touchdown, I was like, ‘Man, just run it back. Give me five or 10 more minutes before I have to get on the field, because I am nervous.’ I was just taking deep breaths.”
Risner, a redshirt freshman center, eventually took the field and played well in his K-State debut, helping the Wildcats’ offensive line pave the way for 332 yards in a 34-0 victory. He was relieved afterward, for good reason. He held his own playing alongside four returning starters and an all-conference player at left tackle. His coach and his quarterback gave him high ratings.
Still, he was unable to brag about it to his teammates. Similar stories occurred all across the field.
Many freshmen made immediate impacts for K-State. The highlights included running back Justin Silmon charging ahead for a team-high 51 rushing yards in six carries and fullback Winston Dimel scoring two touchdowns on goal-line handoffs. Receiver Dominique Heath also led the roster with 54 receiving yards, which included an acrobatic catch that turned into a 43-yard gain.
They all produced highlights in their college debuts. Perhaps this is the start of a youth movement for a K-State program that tends to favor experience over talent.
“I think it tells you there are some younger guys who are willing to compete and will not give up a spot to somebody when they get on the field,” K-State football coach Bill Snyder said. “We would not put them on the field if we did not have a comfort level of what they are capable of doing.
“I thought Justin Silmon did a nice job. He was probably the statistical leader as far as rushing. Near the goal line, I thought Winston did. Dominique made that tremendously gifted catch that really took away an interception, and that is something young players do not really do. So, that sent a message to me who is developing and making headway.”
Throw in 10 rushing yards from backup quarterback Alex Delton, a true freshman, and K-State’s youngest players stole the show on opening night.
It was a rewarding experience for each of them.
“I was really hyped,” said Dimel, the son of K-State co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel. “I was really happy. It has been a lifelong dream of mine growing up as a little kid, so it felt really good to finally be out there. I have seen everyone out there for 19 years playing while my dad coached. To finally get out there and score a touchdown was a dream come true.”
It was a good start for K-State’s youngest players, to say the least. But they are trying not to let that go to their heads.
“I am comfortable out there, but by no means do I want to get complacent,” Risner said. “I don’t want to go out there and think I am just fine. I want to make sure I know that I have plenty to work on and keep my head on straight.”