Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Michael Dickson has made a Texas career of making fourth down fantastic

Posted November 22nd, 2017

Story highlights
  • Michael Dickson practices very specific visualization before each punt on Saturdays.
  • Tom Herman still won't call him by name until he graduates, but he says his value is "very rare."
  • Dickson is deliberating over a decision whether to stay in school or leave early for the NFL Draft but sees no value in deciding that now.

Tom Herman still won’t call him by name.

He won’t, even though Michael Dickson has made such a big name for himself that some NFL team might even call his name early. Early as in next spring.

That’s how good this junior All-American punter for Texas is.

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Like maybe the second-best punter in school history after Russell Erxleben-good. Erxleben was good enough to get drafted out of Texas and in the first round by the New Orleans Saints. He kicked for six seasons before fraud convictions sent him to prison, but before then he doubled as a punter-placekicker and was the best college kicker these eyes have ever seen.

“Yeah, I’ve heard of him,” Dickson said in the Royal-Memorial Stadium press box this week. “He could do it all. He must have had a massive leg.”

Erxleben did, and he was every bit the weapon that Dickson has been for Texas. Erxleben would flip the field with his booming, sky-scraping punts, and so has Dickson to such an extent he might even qualify as the team’s MVP.

Texas punter Michael Dickson punts in the third quarter against Notre Dame at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Sunday September 4, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Herman doesn’t want to go quite that far, but the Ray Guy Award finalist has been by far the Longhorns’ most consistent player and most spectacular. Dickson doesn’t do placekicking, but said he has drop-kicked a field goal from 60 yards this season. He’s got a video of it on Instagram. He doesn’t have personalized plates on his silver 2012 Chevy Cruz, but does have his own fan club.

Last March, a sophomore from Houston Memorial High School named Joseph Harp started a fansite with the Michael13dickson Instagram account devoted to his favorite player. “That cracks me up,” Dickson said.

As of this week, it had 336 followers, including many of Dickson’s teammates like Holton Hill, Chris Warren III and Breckyn Hager.

“I knew he was a good player and seemed like a nice guy,” Harp said.

He’s a whole lot better than good.

Consider that almost half of Dickson’s punts — 29 of 64 — have traveled more than 50 yards. And 11 have gone for beyond 60 yards. His 48-yard average is better than his school-record 47.4 yards set last season. He’s never had a punt blocked but did fumble one crucial snap.

Texas coach Charlie Strong confers with Texas punter Michael Dickson in the first quarter after a punt fell short during the Texas at TCU game Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AMERICAN-STATESMAN / Rodolfo Gonzalez)

His longest punt was a 76-yarder against TCU, but his personal favorite was a 67-yarder — in the air — at home against Kansas State.

Not too bad for an Australian native who shanked his very first punt at Denius Fields over the fence and onto Red River Street.

“I was so embarrassed,” he recalled. “That was my first impression on the coaches, my teammates. What made it worse was nobody said anything. Dead silence.”

Onlookers continue to go slack-jawed silent in awe when he punts on Saturdays.

When asked to quantify Dickson’s worth, Herman said, “I don’t know how. Every Saturday that I walk off the field, I think that guy is a weapon, a legitimate weapon who helps us win football games. When you’ve got a great one, you see the value of that position. There’s a lot more to it, how impactful he can be. The only way I can describe it is to say it’s rare.”

Dickson has a rare routine all his very own as well, but then aren’t all kickers wacky?

On the sidelines, he purposefully avoids getting involved in the action, preferring to stay composed and unemotional because if he gets tense in his upper body, that could affect his drop, which he calls a “very delicate” process. “I separate myself from the action,” he said.

He kicks every Wednesday in the stadium and there has to be dead quiet when he kicks as he visualizes the punts. Before he drops the ball, he’ll focus on a specific yard-line some 50 yards downfield to paint the picture in his mind. He’ll even “mess with myself to make myself as nervous as hell” to approximate gameday. He’s such a creature of habit, he also pens in black ink “No. 50” on his left wrist as another reminder of his desired distance, and he’ll study it while he’s in class.

“I get really specific with my visualization,” he said. “I really emphasize it.”

Part of that habit was grounded in his high school years. He once wrote an “88” on his wrist because that was the score he needed to pass a class. His score?

“I got exactly 88,” Dickson said, smiling.

He’s relied on similar mind-forming tricks in his dormitory room and does it now in the Riverside apartment he shares with running back Kirk Johnson. Last year he attached a big sign 3 feet-by-3 feet on sticky tape and wrote the number “47” on it. He averaged 47.4 yards a punt last season.

“I tried 48, but I didn’t like how it looked,” he said. “I like 47.”

His coaches just like any of those big numbers.

If he does return and welcomes Lake Travis placekicker Cameron Dicker to the team, Texas can tout its new tandem of Dickson and Dicker. But if he turns pro, he said he’d “be happy with any round” of the NFL draft. At least one punter has been drafted every year since 1996 and three have gone in a single draft five times over that span.

Texas punter Michael Dickson Jr. gives an interview during the Big 12 NCAA college football media day in Frisco, Texas, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

So will he consider turning pro early?

“I don’t think it’d be good for me to say and definitely decide now,” he said. “If I said I was, it could put extra pressure on me. I just don’t think it would benefit me.”

Punters rarely go high in the draft but at least four have been taken in the third round. A couple of other Aussies are in the league as well — Brad Winn punts for the Giants and Jordan Berry for the Steelers. Dickson estimates there are more than 30 Australians now punting for FBS schools, a fact he attributes to their training in Australian Rules Football where players kick an entire game and stretch out their legs.

For that matter, Dickson said he thinks he could coach other punters how to better their performances. As for him, he kind of “hops” into his punt. No kangaroo jokes, please.

That said, he’s stayed pretty true to his Aussie roots. He no longer uses the term, “good on you.” And he promises he’ll never wear cowboy boots and say y’all. “That’ll never happen.”

Nor will Herman call Dickson by name any time soon although the punter said his coach did once “by accident” in a special teams meeting. So when will that first time come?

“When he graduates,” Herman said with a chuckle. “I don’t care if you win seven Ray Guy awards, he still just plays seven plays a game.”

Seven very impactful plays.

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