ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — From the ankles up, Dalton Risner looked like any other draft pick arriving for his first day.
Sharp suit, pressed shirt, Broncos hat.
But the footwear he chose was one of a kind.
The boots of this young man who grew up on a Colorado farm are size 18, heavily creased, scuffed up and dusty. It’s possible that the Wiggins native would have worn them no matter where he was drafted, but nowhere else would they have felt so right.
“These are the boots that I’m wearing at the corral, the boots I’m wearing out to feed and that’s just kind of who I am,” Risner said. “… These are my work boots right here. I’m coming in to work today. These are the boots that I’m going to be wearing to this complex when I’m showing up to work.
“This is no vacation. This is work.”
They may not be dressy, and they may not be polished, but Risner thought they were the most appropriate fit for what was essentially his first day of work at his new job.
“I would like to come in and have an immediate impact,” he said, speaking of his mindset as he prepares to begin his NFL career at possibly a new position along the offensive line. “Wherever that position is, I’m going to come in and work my ass off.”
That approach comes not just from the territory of his role as a brawling lineman, but perhaps with the territory of his small hometown, located about an hour away from Denver. And with that, there was always a hope that he could stay in his home state and bring his skills and tenacity to his favorite NFL team.
“In the back of my mind, I said, ‘No matter what, I feel safe that the Broncos are at 41. No matter how the draft goes. If I go first round, that’s great, but the fact that the Broncos are at 41, I felt like they wouldn’t pass on me,’” Risner recalled. “And I’m just so thankful that they didn’t. That shows their appreciation for me and how much I appreciate them. If I could go back right now and choose to be a 20th draft pick or 21st draft pick to the Seahawks, whatever it was, I’d choose 41 to the Broncos every day. … I’m happy to be a part of this.”
So was his family, which rolled seven peopledeep to accompany him to UCHealth Training Center and wrote “#LeagueBound” on one of the windows of his truck, which is already parked in the players’ parking lot.
“I think it means a lot to them,” Risner said. “They were obviously bawling. There’s a lot of happy tears, tears of joy. Just to be an hour down the road, I think, is a God thing. That’s something bigger at play. I don’t think that’s just luck. I don’t just think that’s how things pan out. That was God’s plan, and I’m so excited to see how God’s going to work through me in Denver: the impact I can have on the football team, and the impact that I can have on the community.”
To be able to play for the Broncos means that Risner is already quite familiar with the team. He grew up watching the team, which included Assistant Offensive Line Coach Chris Kuper during his playing days.
The coming transition from aspiration to reality will bring a very real change of perspective for Risner. Kuper won’t just be a player he admired; he’ll be one of the men tasked with shaping his NFL future, and that may mean one of the players he idolized will be barking at him if he isn’t meeting expectations during practice. And it may not be just him. Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Munchak may do the same as the offensive line coach.
For this young lineman wearing the cowboy boots, though, that won’t be too much to handle. In fact, that’s exactly what looking forward to.
“Those are two coaches that going into this process, I wanted to get coached by,” Risner said. “I’m sure there are going to be the days where they’re on me, but that’s what you want.”
As a Colorado kid, Risner will know a privilege that only a couple of Broncos on the roster — Phillip Lindsay and Sam Jones — have experienced as a local playing for the team they grew up watching.
“I’m just honored to be here and have the opportunity to play next to guys like Phillip and Sam,” Risner said. “I was talking to Phillip on the phone last night. It was so cool just to be welcomed by all these players. It was really, really special. I’m just humbled. I’m just so excited to work alongside all these guys — not only them two, but all the football players on this team.
“I’m just ready to become a part of the team and start working for all these guys.”