WIGGINS, Colo. -- Dalton Risner misjudged the impact. That never happens on the football field. But the cafeteria at his high school proved different on Friday night.
He returned home to host an event to thank the town of Wiggins. It started at 6:30. Folks began arriving a little after 4.
"I wasn't ready for this," Risner told Denver7. "This is hectic, but great."
This celebration -- which amounted to a big hug from Risner -- marked the end of a breathtaking year. Last January, Risner was grinding through Senior Bowl practice, and allowing his mind to wander. As he left the field in Mobile, Ala., he spotted John Elway. You have to understand Risner grew up a huge Broncos fan. His family didn't miss Elway's games. Now here was Risner, a prospect from Kansas State, desperate to meet Elway and make sure he knew of his dream was to play for the Broncos.
"My whole life I heard about John Elway. I grew up on the Denver Broncos. I saw him on the field and I wanted to run over and see him. I was talking to Mr. Steve Atwater, and someone was talking with John for like 10 minutes. I kept waiting," Risner said. "And then (Raiders and Senior Bowl coach) Jon Gruden was yelling at me to get into the locker room. Finally, Elway was free and I ran over to him. I don't think I chest bumped him. I might have. I was huffing and puffing."
The Broncos knew about Risner. They selected him in the second round as a critical addition. He become a core player, making the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team at left guard. Risner feels grateful, but not satisfied.
"I am pissed I am not training for the Pro Bowl right now. I want to be an All-Pro. But more importantly, I want to help our team get back to the playoffs," Risner said. "Obviously, we wanted a better season. But with the kind of teammates we have, with Von Miller and Courtland Sutton, so many guys, they want it badly. You can see how we are a team, how we support each other."
Hope is no longer a stranger at UCHealth Center. The Broncos won four of their final five games with rookie quarterback Drew Lock, who became close friends with Risner after rooming with him beginning in April mini-camps. The Broncos hired a new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who in theory, will microwave Lock's development.
"I think that Drew brings passion. He hasn't won a Super Bowl. The kid is hungry," Risner said. "What is great about Drew is how he leads the team. Being down 14 in Kansas City in the snow, he never wavered. That really matters."
For Risner, football is what he does, but not who he is. Wiggins, he told the overflow crowd in the auditorium, is "where I can become Dalton Risne." He was the valedictorian. He grew in his faith, something important to his mom. At Kansas State, he became involved in the community, making numerous visits to hospitals. With the Broncos, he started a foundation, Risner Up.
"My whole message is to spread love and kindness through Jesus in a time where it might not be the most popular thing to do," Risner said.
Popular was an apt word for Friday night. Risner stayed until 9:30 p.m. signing autographs and taking pictures. This is the first event of its kind in Wiggins. It won't be the last.
"Everybody knows I am from Wiggins. I talk about it all the time. This is where I started to believe in myself, where my dream of starting and playing for the Denver Broncos took shape," Risner said. "It was important for me to be here because these are the people who have always supported me and believed in me since Day 1. I can't go door-to-door even in Wiggins. This is my way of saying thank you to the community."