Imagine landing in a foreign country on the other side of the world. There’s no language barrier, fortunately, but you don’t have the first clue about where you’re headed.
Michael Dickson stood in the Austin airport late last July and had to find his way to the University of Texas campus.
“I saw someone holding a sign for ‘Michael’ and walked over and introduced myself,” Dickson said Monday. “I had never spoken to these people on the phone or anything. I just had to go with it.”
Two years later, the Australian has learned his way around Austin, Texas, America as well as this country’s brand of football. He’s become one of nation’s best playing a sport Dickson didn’t even fully understand until he spent a full year playing in the Big 12.
Despite Texas’ 5-5 record, D’Onta Foreman isn’t the only Longhorn who deserves All-American and national award consideration. Dickson, a sophomore from Sydney, Australia, is one of 10 Ray Guy Award semifinalist and ranks third nationally with a 47.8 yard punting average.
Dickson’s mark would set a new UT season record, knocking off Russell Erxleben’s 46.6 mark set in 1976.
Utah’s Mitch Wishnowsky (48.8) and Florida’s Johnny Townsend (47.3) are among the semifinalists, as is Oklahoma State’s Zach Sinor (43.0).
Utah’s Tom Hackett won the award in 2014 and again in 2015. He averaged 48 yards per punt as a senior. Georgia’s Drew Butler, the 2009 winner, had the highest season average (48.1) among Ray Guy winners in the last 10 years.
“I saw the candidate list,” Dickson said. “I’m not watching it too closely. That’s not really the team sort of thing to do. I’m really trying to do what’s best for the team, just hit a good ball for our team.”
Dickson’s first punt in front of his new UT teammates has been well documented. He sailed a ball completely off the practice fields onto Red River Street. Dickson finished his freshman season averaging 41.3 yards and had six downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
“I was looking back on my last year before this season started, I was kind of hard on myself and making sure that didn’t happen again,” Dickson said. “I didn’t have a terrible season, but I knew what I was capable of and I didn’t show it last year.”
During the offseason, he added more muscle under strength coach Pat Moorer.
“I know if he doesn’t get in the weight room or do anything productive for a day, he’ll feel like he’s getting worse,” left tackle Connor Williams said. “He’s a great worker.”
Dickson said he’s not working with any UT assistant coach and has no personal coach. It’s all done by feel and watching video to sharpen his mechanics, although not too much.
He’s hung a sign in his dorm room — the letters 47. He looks at those numbers every day as a reminder of a goal. During games, Dickson also writes the number 50 on his wrist as a reminder of what each game’s punting-average goal should be.
Dickson has drilled at least one 50-yard punt in every game this season, and has boomed 60-yard punts against Notre Dame, Baylor and Texas Tech. It’s unclear whether his family can watch Texas games live, though. Dickson’s hometown is 17 hours ahead of the Central time zone.
“You get so many reps of punting different-sized kicks at practice playing Australian rules football,” Dickson said, “your body just gets so used to that feeling of dropping the ball, making it curve, making it dip, making it go high and long. You’re so in tune with your kicking leg.”
It’s not outrageous to project Dickson as a future NFL prospect already. He’s certainly thinking that way.
“Right now, it sounds cocky, but I think you have to think like that if you want to become an NFL prospect,” Dickson said. “If I didn’t think I was an NFL prospect, I don’t think I would get the chance to become one.”
At the moment, Dickson has the chance to battle with Erxleben as one of the best specialists in Texas history.
“I visualized this,” Dickson said. “I had to convince myself this was going to happen for it to happen.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.