On a still-even Texas Longhorns special teams, the bright, shining star through two games has been the once-maligned Australian native, sophomore punter Michael Dickson, who is off to an historic start:
#Longhorns' Michael Dickson currently holds highest yds/punt average (min 10 punts) in CFB since 2000 (@sports_ref) pic.twitter.com/L0fNPQQIFo— Drew Lieberman (@DrewLieberman) September 11, 2016
Against Notre Dame, the 6’3, 208-pounder helped flip the field numerous times in booting six punts a school-record 330 yards for an average of 55.0 yards per attempt. Only two of those kicks were returned and one was downed inside the 20-yard line.
Dickson then stayed steady against UTEP with five punts for 252 yards, an average of 50.4 yards per attempt, with one downed inside the 1-yard line.
The difference for Dickson this year is consistency — when he came over to the states last season and earned the starting job as a summer signee, he’d only been punting for six months, having emerged from the ProKick Australia academy.
Even before the infamous botched play that cost the game against Oklahoma State, Dickson shanked a punt onto Red River during his first open practice at Texas. During the season, some kicks were rockets. Others weren’t hit cleanly.
Having let his teammates down once in a big moment and having failed to strike the ball as well as he’s capable of doing last season caused him to put in some extra effort in preparation for his sophomore season.
“I'd go out there in the offseason and try to punt when my legs were sore,” Dickson said last week. “The offseason made a big, big difference.”
For any athlete, the key is repetitions, so beyond simply punting when he was sore, Dickson put in the time and effort to ensure that hitting a football with the necessary length and hang time was a second nature to him like the disposals he made with the Sydney Swans Academy back home.
“I just worked by myself,” he said. “I was really disappointed with my season last year and I just really wanted to compete against myself. I could punt like this last year. I just didn't do it in the game. So I was just really focused on just kicking it and getting the muscle memory in so you don't have to think about it.”
In fact, thinking too much was one of the major impediments to his desire consistency — he was acting on the moment instead of letting his preparation and natural ability shine through.
The results are obvious, but there’s another factor playing a role — the Australian native doesn’t want to let down his teammates again.
“This year, having the whole offseason and just building that connection with your teammates…I wanted it last year, but this year it means so much more for me to play well.”
Like many Longhorns players, he further forged those connections during the summer playing the games that head coach Charlie Strong installed in the players’ lounge. In fact, he’s one of the top five ping-pong players on the team.
And, unlike most punters, Dickson is an athlete — he competed for a middleweight title in the “Battle for the Belts” over the summer and came through when the ‘Horns needed him against the Fighting Irish, making a key tackle on a punt return.
It’s hard for Dickson to completely forget that crucial mistake almost a year ago. When he does remember, he simply uses it as motivation. In 2016, it’s been working.
“I try not to think about it, but I don't forget about it,” Dickson said. “I don't want to forget about it. I get reminded every now and again. It's disappointing that that happened, but I feel like it's going to help me in the long run. It makes me not take anything for granted.”