As Kansas State’s five football captains assembled for a group picture at the end of Big 12 media days earlier this week, they decided to jazz up the photo by holding oversized nameplates.
Jesse Ertz grabbed the one displaying his name on a table at the K-State portion of the complex. Dayton Valentine, D.J. Reed and Trent Tanking all did the same. But not Dalton Risner. Instead, the junior offensive lineman snuck over to the West Virginia area and claimed a nameplate belonging to Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen.
The switch made for some genuine laughs until Risner switched to his own nameplate for a photo that was ultimately shared on social media, with Bill Snyder looking on.
While other players at the media function appeared tired and eager to head home after hours of interviews, Risner looked like he didn’t want to leave. He was having too much fun.
“I am truly happy to be in this situation,” Risner said. “My entire life I have wanted to play Division I football and hopefully play in the NFL. I wanted to be in a situation like this and have people want to talk to me. It is awesome.”
That attitude made him a hit with media from across the conference. An emerging star at right tackle, Risner told one reporter after another about his journey to K-State from a tiny Colorado high school, his challenging yet successful transition away from center last season and the Wildcats’ goal of a conference championship this season.
It’s easy to see why many regard him as the best public speaker on the roster, and why his teammates have twice voted him captain. Risner likes to talk. He also likes to lead. That means going all-in at everything he does, even media interviews.
“I’m not the type of guy to come here and act mad that I have to talk to people or act like I am supposed to be here,” Risner said. “Some guys are probably supposed to be here, but I’m definitely not supposed to be here. I am from a small town. No one expected me to be here. So when I get in this situation I truly try to enjoy every moment of it and soak it in, because they aren’t going to last forever.”
That passion has translated to an impressive work ethic on the football field. Since arriving at K-State as an unheralded recruit and taking a redshirt, he has been one of the most productive blockers on his team.
He started all 13 games at center as a redshirt freshman and then surprisingly started 13 more at right tackle as a sophomore. The position change was initially panned, but Risner went on to have a spectacular season.
“There aren’t many people who could do that,” K-State tight end Dayton Valentine said. “Not only is Dalton the hardest worker I know, but he is a great athlete. He is the best basketball player on his intramural team, he is always the pitcher when we play baseball and he is clearly a great offensive lineman. Throw in the fact that his mouth is always moving and we all really enjoy his presence.”
Pro Football Focus, a website that rates the individual performances of all pro and some college players, is also impressed. The site rated him as the nation’s sixth-best tackle last season and as one of the top returning linemen in the country this season.
He will lead an experienced line that returns four starters.
“Risner is one of the most efficient players in college football,” writes PFF author Taylor Wright. “… Risner plays with great extension in hands and arms to keep defenders off his chest to avoid being thrown off of pass and run blocks in ways you don’t see often in college football offensive lineman.”
Still, it wasn’t an easy transition. Risner was overwhelmed with nerves before his first game at right tackle. He went up against Stanford defensive end Solomon Thomas, the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and was worried he might embarrass himself.
K-State lost that game, and Risner didn’t play all that well. But he got better.
“I might have made it look pretty smooth and easy, but I can tell you, behind the scenes, switching from center to right tackle was very hard,” Risner said. “I am still working on it. But I feel like it was a good change for me and my career.”
Now, he’s not afraid of any opponent. Or any interview.
“I was born for this,” Risner said. “Being able to be a captain for multiple years, leading guys who are older than me, made me realize I have an impact on people. I can be a leader. That is one of the things I love and something I hope I can do for the rest of my life.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett