Dalton Risner is a product of Wiggins, Colorado, a town he said has no stop lights and one gas station.
That may seem like a long way from the NFL, and when he was growing up there, it sure felt like it. But during that time, Risner was able to watch a player with a similar background perform at the highest levels of professional football. In fact, that player hailed from a town a few hours away that made Wiggins look like a bustling metropolis.
“Nate Solder is from Buena Vista, Colorado, also called Leadville, which is even smaller than where I come from,” Risner said of the Giants’ left tackle. “Leadville doesn’t even have a gas station!”
It was that small-town similarity that first drew Risner to follow Solder’s career, first with the Patriots and last year with the Giants. Risner said he tried to “mirror” Solder both on the field and off it. “I look up to him,” he said.
As Risner has gotten closer and closer to his dream of playing in the NFL — the offensive lineman from Kansas State is expected to be selected during the first two rounds of this draft — he’s also gotten closer and closer to Solder. The two men have spoken often since they first connected about a year ago, when Risner was first looking for an agent and Solder offered some guidance. Since then, Solder has become as much a mentor as a mirror.
“My heart goes out to him because I know what he’s going through and I know this is a stressful transition,” Solder said of his conversations with Risner as the draft has drawn closer. “He’s got a lot of high hopes, I’m sure, and a lot of things on the table. I just try to be able to answer questions he has for me if we can talk through things. I try to give him tidbits of advice.”
The most important, Solder said, is to not focus on what is being floated.
“You get so caught up in this time, what people say about you, what this media person says, what this mock draft says,” Solder said, “but the only thing that matters is once you get to a team and how you perform and how you play . . . It’s where he goes from this point forward.”
That could be to the Giants. They’re likely to be looking to upgrade at right tackle, Risner’s position during his entire college career. And their 37th overall pick could be just about where many scouts have Risner projected to land. It could be the second year in a row that the Giants pick an offensive lineman at the top of the second; last year it was UTEP guard Will Hernandez, who played every snap of the 2018 season for the Giants.
Risner and Hernandez share an edginess and intensity on the field that the Giants seem drawn to.
“A quote I kind of lived by in college was there’s no greater feeling in football than taking a man from Point A to Point B, not only against his will, but to drive him to the dirt,” Risner said. “[I’m] someone that’s finishing guys, someone that looks like he’s out there playing pissed off.”
Solder said he hasn’t watched much film on Risner and can’t offer any kind of breakdown of him as a player. That kind of thing is up to scouts and front-office executives. He can vouch for the type of person Risner is, though. He thinks he would fit in well with the team the Giants are building.
“He’s a great guy,” Solder said. “What you find across the league is there are good people on every team. Really intelligent, well-spoken, hard-working good teammates. I put him in that category . . . That’s the kind of guy we want and that’s the kind of guy a lot of NFL teams want.”
And if they wind up playing together in New York, there will be enough traffic lights and gas stations around to keep both of them counting for years to come.