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Pushed by new 'young' coach, Dalton Risner ready for NFL debut in Black Hole

The pride of Wiggins knows of Raiders' rivalry from Broncos' fan point of view.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Dalton Risner may be among the team’s youngest, yet he might be the only Bronco who thinks Vic Fangio is a young coach.

Risner just came from Kansas State, where his head coach Bill Snyder is so old, he recently retired for a second time. Snyder will turn 80 next month. Fangio just recently turned the spry young age of 61.

“Yep and I tell you what, I want to get those two coaches in a room, because those guys are so similar, it’s unreal,’’ Risner said in a sit-down interview with 9NEWS this week. “My five years at K-State, coach Snyder, compliments were very hard to come by. He continued to push me.

“I’ve seen that in Vic Fangio every single day. He’s not going to give you what you want to hear. Even if you’re doing it? He wants to see how you’re going to do and continue to push you. Those two are the same people.’’

For his first NFL game Monday night at Oakland, Risner’s assignment as the Broncos’ starting left guard will be to move Johnathan Hankins. That extra ‘h” in Johnathan is for heft as Hankins is a listed 340 pounds, which must be his diet weight.

“He’s a big guy, but that’s the NFL, though,’’ Risner said. “That’s going to be every week. Every week you have a guy like that. One guy is either: I watched him growing up, or he’s a guy that’s been dominating the NFL, a big man like that. I’m excited for the challenge.’’

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By now, all Broncos fans know Risner is from the  Colorado town of Wiggins – population 887 – a one hour drive northeast from Denver on Interstate 76. A small-town kid growing up to play his for hometown professional sports team.

It’s a dream-come-true, yes, but it can be stressful as well. Ask former Olympic gold medal champion Rulon Gardner about how easy it was to be a national hero in his small Wyoming town.

Risner, though, has embraced his fish-bowl status as a Broncos starter from Wiggins.

Credit: AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Denver Broncos offensive tackle Dalton Risner takes part in drills at the team's NFL football training facility Wednesday, June 5, 2019, in Englewood, Colo.

“When I got drafted I think everyone might have thought my mindset was a different way,’’ he said. “Like, ‘I’m a second-round pick, I’m entitled to something.’ But my mindset was a little bit different growing up in Wiggins and going to play ball in Manhattan, Kansas for Kansas State and Bill Snyder. It was more of an attitude of, I got drafted in the second round, now I have to prove I belong here. My coaches expect me to come in and fight for a starting job.

“So I want to prove I can be that guy. Of course, there’s stress with it, but that’s why we get paid the big bucks.’’

Besides, there’s no envy evident in Wiggins. To the contrary, a local farmer mowed a maze in his cornfield with Risner’s likeness in his No. 66 uniform, along with “Congrats Big D” and “Go Broncos.”

“Guys on the team were like, this is too much. You have too much support,’’ Risner said with his beaming smile. “I’m like, no, this is awesome. Every day I get a new video of a little kid that got my jersey or something like that. It’s not hard to show up to work when you have such a great fan base behind you.”

From the first OTA practice, Risner has lined up as the Broncos’ No. 1 left guard. It took a greater leap of faith by the Broncos than people realized. The previous three years, Risner started every game at right tackle for Kansas State. As a freshman, he started at center.

There was never any left guard or right guard.

“My whole life I played center,’’ Risner said. “Ever since Pee Wee football, I was 6 years old, I played center. I finally got to play right tackle my sophomore year at right tackle at K-State.

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“And in the course of the draft process, I preached I could play every position. Because I truly believed it and I did that in practice. But being honest, in game scenarios, I hadn’t got any reps at guard.

“I’ve got to give all the credit to (Broncos’ offensive line coach) Mike Munchak. He slowed down the game for me. When you’ve got a coach that says believe in the technique, I’m teaching you and you won’t get beat. And the funny thing about him, if you don’t do the technique, he’ll show you on film, you didn’t do my technique? Oh, you got beat? Oh, OK.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos offensive tackle Dalton Risner (66) during drills at the team's NFL football training camp Friday, July 19, 2019, in Englewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“He’s a coach like that. He knows what it takes to win and it’s been so nice for me to concentrate on the technique he’s teaching me and that’s helped me become a better left guard the last two months.’’

As a Broncos fan growing up, Risner’s earliest memory of his team’s rivalry with Oakland was Rich Gannon’s magical year as Raiders’ quarterback in 2002. Since then, the Broncos have gone 21-11 against their divisional opponent.

“When I think of the Raiders, I think of a big, bald fan, 350 pounds with black and silver paint all over his face,’’ Risner said. “When we woke up on Sundays in the house and it was Raider Day, there was a different feel to it. I wasn’t even playing. It was a division game, yes. But it was also the Raiders. Like the Black Hole is a big deal.”

The Black Hole. Last time for the Broncos, first NFL game for Risner.

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