MANHATTAN — 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 one 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.
That’s why Risner has one of the wildest recruiting stories around.
“I am proud of where I am from. That is one of the biggest chips I have on my shoulder,” Risner said. “I came from a small town and went to a small 1A high school, so I really had to put myself out there to get recruited. I basically called coaches nonstop every weekend, just bugging them to watch my tape. 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 e-mail them over and over just to let them know I’m a Division I player and I’m worth a look. I was on the phone for hours every weekend.”
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. The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder is now considered a three-star prospect and the No. 6 rated high school center by Rivals. He has been invited to play in two national high school all-star games, being named a team captain and standout performer at the Offense-Defense Bowl in Orlando.
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.
Not bad for an unknown kid from a little-known town.
“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.”
Risner and K-State appear to be a perfect match. In many ways, Risner personifies the type of recruit that excels under Wildcat coach Bill Snyder.
He 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.
When asked to compare himself to a current K-State player, Risner selects junior center B.J. Finney, which makes sense because he hopes to follow in his footsteps. Finney sat out his first year with a redshirt, but played so well on the scout team that he worked his way into the starting lineup the following season. He has been K-State’s 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 him a scholarship immediately after watching him play for the first time at a junior-day workout, and he may compete for playing time on the offensive line as a freshman. But, as of now, he says the more realistic plan is for him to redshirt and spend his first year on campus playing center on the scout team. Then, as a redshirt freshman, he will try and take over for Finney once 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.”