RENTON, Wash. - Six months after Michael Dickson touched a football for the first time, he was starting for the Texas Longhorns.
Five months after he was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks, many people believe he could change the game entirely.
The Seahawks rookie has defied expectations and redefined the very potential of the punter position during a meteoric football career that has yet to hit the five-year mark.
“He can completely change the game,” the NFL Network’s Peter Schrager said recently, calling Dickson the most impactful rookie in the NFL in the early stages of the season.
That would be a bold statement about anybody, of course, much less an Australian punter who picked up an American football for the first time in March 2015.
Dickson was born outside of Sydney, graduating from soccer to Aussie rules football when he was 12.
He was good enough to earn a spot at the Sydney Swans talent academy, but didn’t particularly love the game and wasn’t quite talented enough to go pro.
He told Q13 News he’d never thought seriously about American football, though he did keep it in the back of his mind “because I had a bigger kick than everyone else that I played with” growing up.
“I decided to say, ‘let’s see what punting is all about,’” Dickson said. “To see if there’s a program in Australia, if there’s a coach here.”
There was. Dickson ended up at ProKick Australia, a program designed to prepare Aussies to punt and kick at the college and NFL level.
“With our natural Aussie instinct of kicking a ball, we have focused on that area,” ProKick’s website says.
They’re not kidding about that instinct. The last five Ray Guy Awards for the NCAA’s best punter have all gone to Australians: Dickson won it last year, following Utah’s Mitch Wishnowsky in 2016, Utah’s Tom Hackett in 2014 and 2015, and Memphis’ Tom Hornsey in 2013.
The tradition continues at Texas, where Dickson’s cousin and good friend Ryan Bujcevski took over the role this year.
ProKick sent a video of Dickson to the Longhorns’ coaching staff, who were immediately hooked.
“I had no idea what I was doing really,” Dickson said. “I just kind of winged it.”
Winging it worked.
Dickson left Texas a year early after averaging more than 47 yards a punt in 2017 and becoming the second punter ever to be named MVP of a Bowl game, following a Texas Bowl in which he pinned 10 of his 11 punts inside the 15-yard line in a 33-16 victory over Mizzou.
The Seahawks made the rare decision to draft a punter, selecting Dickson in the fifth round.
“He brings to us techniques that we haven’t see people even try,” coach Pete Carroll said after the draft. “The ball moves in different directions. He can do a lot of stuff.”
Dickson is the first to admit he still doesn’t fully understand American football, and laughed when asked if he was embarrassed about that.
“I’m learning all the time,” he said. “I’m always asking the long snapper, ‘What’s going on? Why was that? What penalty is that? Haven’t heard of that before.’”
Dickson said he plays the video game Madden NFL, and frequently picks up on the rules from that. Does anybody give him a hard time?
“I definitely get a pass because I’m Australian,” Dickson said.
Dickson said he balances the rapidly increasing expectations by reminding himself that he was once just a kid who liked to kick the ball.
“I try to act like the NFL isn’t as pressurized and isn’t as crazy and high level as it is,” he said. “I just tell myself, it’s just like any other game. I just kick it.
“It’s good to just kick it. Just don’t complicate it. You’re catching a ball and you’re kicking it.”