How Aussie punter went from Sydney Swans to NFL sensation

Michael Dickson was already making headlines in the NFL before he stunned more than 10 million Americans with a rugby-style drop-kick kick-off on Monday night football.

But how did the 22-year-old from Sydney become an overnight sensation in his first season as a professional punter?

Dickson’s story starts as far away from the NFL as possible: he wanted to play Aussie rules and never watched the American code.

After building up his skills as a Sydney Swans prospect, Dickson wasn’t that far off earning an AFL contract in the 2014 draft.

“He was probably only a smidgen off being a rookie prospect,” Chris Smith, then the Swans’ academy manager, said in 2015.

“He always had an elite kick and was always requested by the NEAFL coaches (to play for Sydney’s reserve team).”

Michael Dickson is now a bona fide NFL punter. Pic: Getty

Dickson’s path to the NFL began soon after missing out in the AFL draft and realising he didn’t want to have a second crack through a state-league competition.

“I just wasn’t enjoying footy any more, I was over training and wanted to do something else. I just wasn’t feeling it,” Dickson explained three years ago.

The decision to walk away from footy saw him swap the Swans academy for the punting program at Prokick Australia, a company specialising in sending Australians to college as punters.

Success was no guarantee, yet throughout the early months of 2015 Dickson carved out his potential quicker than most.

It took just a few months for the athlete to transition from one of a number of local hopes with little experience with an American football to a University of Texas punter on a college scholarship.

“Punting was always a bit of joke to me. I used to have kicking competitions between mates and when they realised I could go end to end in two kicks they encouraged me to give it a go,” he said before starting his first pre-season with the Longhorns.

“It wasn’t until I looked into it a bit more that it was a serious option. And I don’t just want to stop at college level. I want to get my degree and hopefully turn pro.”

Dickson’s highlights video enamoured the University of Texas coach Charlie Strong, but his attitude also helped.

“He has a strong leg, a really good leg. He tells you, ‘coach, I can put the ball anywhere you want me to put it’,” Strong said.

“I say, ‘we directional kick a lot’. He says, ‘I’ll put it where you ask me to’.

“We saw him on tape and once we get out on the park we’ll have a chance to see what he’s all about.”

Dickson impressed – and improved.

The Australian played 12 games in his first season and averaged 41.3 yards per punt before bumping that up to 47.4 yards in his second season.

Then, in 2017, Dickson was called on for 84 punts – and maintained that 47.4-yard average despite kicking 19 more times than the previous campaign.

His stunning season saw Australia’s strangehold on the Ray Guy Award for college football’s best punter extend to a fifth year.

Dickson followed fellow Prokick graduates Mitch Wishnowsky, Tom Hackett and Tom Hornsey as winners of the award.

The punting business is brutal – in spite of their college success, Hornsey and Hackett didn’t last long in NFL squads – but Dickson is suddenly Australia’s NFL hero.

And he wants everyone to know he’s a self-made man.

That rugby-style drop kick? He didn’t learn it in Sydney.