ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Dalton Risner took an extra trip to Empower Field at Mile High Stadium this week.

“I’m never really in that stadium unless I’m playing and when I’m playing in there, it’s all work,” Risner said. “You forget that this is a dream. You forget about being that little kid who grew up dreaming about playing in that stadium.”

The Wiggins, Colorado native was told he was on his way to surprise a group of kids who were touring the stadium. His wife brought some jewelry to give them and he’d brought some shirts to give out.

But when Risner made his way onto the field, he slowly realized he’d been tricked.

“The video started playing and it kind of hit home to me, man,” Risner said.

The video on the big screen in the stadium showed clips of Risner’s career with the Broncos intertwined with clips of his work with different charities in the Colorado community. His mother, father and wife each narrated parts of the video before Broncos team president told Risner he was the team’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

“It was a really special moment for me,” Risner said. “I’m super honored to get the award and see my close friends and family there to support me.”

Risner started the RisnerUp Foundation while playing at Kansas State. The foundation partners with various nonprofits in Kansas and Colorado, like Special Olympics. He also works with other organizations, including helping out with Broncos community events. He is an Athlete Ambassador for A Precious Child, an Honorary Board Member of Special Olympics Colorado, and a member of the Board of Directors for Camp Kymel. He helped raise money for Marshall Fire victims through a relief auction. He has participated in 50 community events so far this year.

As a nominee, Risner will receive a $40,000 donation to the charity of their choice. He will also wear a sticker on his helmet that acknowledges the nomination. The national winner of the award will receive a $250,000 donation to the charity of their choice. The winner will also wear a patch on his jersey for the rest of his NFL career.

“The season isn’t going as we wanted it to, but there are still a lot of important things that need to go down,” Risner said. “I think our team does a great job of reflecting that.”

Risner’s nominations ends a streak of three consecutive nods for safety Justin Simmons.

“I was so happy for Dalton,” Simmons said. “It was so cool. For me, watching the video and seeing—because I’ve had plenty of conversations with ‘Dalt’ Risner. He does so much work. Knowing him personally and going to a bunch of different events of his and seeing the work that he does—he doesn’t even really want it publicized. That, to me, is what is really cool. When you have guys like that good things are always going to happen.”

Simmons earned his nominations in part because of his establishment of the Justin Simmons Foundation and it’s “31 for the Holidays” program which provided Christmas gifts to more than 130 children last year. He worked with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality and the Denver Boys & Girls club.

Simmons isn’t upset about his streak ending.

“Dalton earned it,” Simmons said. “There are a few things that I’ve done. I just think over the last few years, he’s just done such an amazing job with his foundation, the Risner Up Foundation, and he has books. The interactions that he has with the kids, and the stories of how he keeps in touch.”

The Broncos are known for their work in the community and won ESPN’s 2022 Humanitarian Team of the Year Award. All professional sports franchises in North America were eligible.

Second-year running back Javonte Williams got in on the action by launching The Javonte Williams Foundation this week. His inaugural fundraising event was Monday night in downtown Denver to raise money for local foster children. Williams was a foster brother growing up, sparking his interest in the cause.

Quarterback Russell Wilson was among the Broncos in attendance.

“He was all dolled up and dressed to the nines with a little cowboy hat on,” Wilson said. “It was a great turnout. I go back to my first event, and we had a good amount of people, but I think that he definitely did an amazing job with what he was able to do. As you’re doing these things, you kind of get excited for him, but you also know that this is a journey, and you don’t know where it’s all going to go. He’s done an amazing job.”

Wilson was the national winner of the 2020 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. You might notice the award patch on his jersey during games. He visits a children’s hospital in Denver once a week.

Wilson was happy for Risner to earn his first nomination.

“We have so many guys in this locker room that do such amazing work,” Wilson said. “You go to the homeless shelter, and you get to see guys like ‘Cush’ (Lloyd Cushenberry III) and guys like Baron Browning. Then you get to see Justin Simmons always doing special things and Javonte the other night. An amazing, amazing leader that we have in Dalton Risner and how he goes about his business, how he impacts the community, impacts the locker room, and impacts everybody around him. He’s a tremendous, tremendous man, person, and teammate.”

Risner will wear the Man of the Year decal on his helmet for the first time on Sunday against the Chiefs. The matchup means more than most others to the Colorado native.

“(It’s) very personal,” he said. “We may be 3-9 right now, but as football players, as a football team and as an organization, you can’t worry about that. You have to go out there and be focused on beating the Chiefs. It’s been a good number of years since we’ve beaten these guys. Everyone knows they are a good football team, and we have to give our hats off to them because they are a good football team and they’re playing great ball. This one is personal. It’s personal every week, of course, because you want to get those wins, but it’s extra personal when it comes to the Chiefs. Not only for this organization but for me and my household. The Broncos are a great franchise and a great organization that’s had a lot of success. We want to get back to doing that, and it starts with winning this game on Sunday.”

We’ll find out on Sunday if the Broncos can end the Chiefs’ winning streak against Denver at 13 games.

Author

Henry was born in Columbia Falls, Montana and graduated from Columbia Falls High School in 2015. He earned bachelor's degrees in journalism and economics from the University of Montana in 2019. After graduation, he joined DNVR. He spent three years covering the University of Colorado before moving to the Broncos beat ahead of the 2022 season. Henry joined DNVR as a remote staff writer in 2017, providing support to BSN's Broncos beat reporters. He interned at DNVR headquarters in the summer of 2018 and accepted a full-time position after graduating from UM. Follow Henry on Twitter - @HenryChisholm

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