To say Kirrawee’s Michael Dickson has a good right peg would be a gross understatement.
Dickson, 20, is currently enjoying a record-breaking season as the University of Texas’ best punter.
This week he was named as a finalist for the Ray Guy Award – awarded to the best punter in college football in the USA. Remarkably, the other two finalists also hail from Australia.
Dickson, who attended Kirrawee High School, was part of the Sydney Swans Academy during his high school years, alongside the likes of Isaac Heeney, but has since switched to American football.
After missing out on selection during the AFL draft in 2014, he decided to head along to a ProKick Australia trial in Sydney to give punting a go.
Nathan Chapman, who runs ProKick Australia in Melbourne, was impressed and invited him down to Victoria. Chapman worked on his technique and posted videos of Dickson online for prospective colleges in the States.
The University of Texas – which boasted a home crowd of 102,000 for one match this season – saw Dickson’s video and flew him over to offer him a scholarship. The rest is history.
He is now in his second season with the college’s NCAA Division One team, the Texas Longhorns.
His mum Lily Baum, who lives in Kirrawee, said she was very proud of her son.
“It would not have happened if he was not such a committed worker. He works hard at everything he sets his mind on,” she said.
Mrs Baum said her and her husband had watched every one of Michael’s games since he was a kid, and it was surreal seeing him on such a big stage.
“It is surreal,” she said. “We went over for his very first game and it was against Notre Dame, and the crowd was well over 100,000 people.”
She said Michael started out playing soccer as a child before switching to Australian rules at the age of 8.
Mrs Baum said her son was rapt about being named as a finalist, and she got a call from him this week saying the university would fly her and her husband over to watch the award ceremony on December 8.
Sydney Swans Academy general manager Chris Smith had a lot to do with Dickson and said he was a great talent.
“He had always been a beautiful kicker, that was always his strength,” Smith said. “He has a big, driving [right] foot, beautiful technique and excellent timing.”
He said he also had a solid character which would have helped him overcome some of the challenges in switching to a new sport. In one unfortunate case last season, Dickson fumbled the ball during a punt which ended up costing Texas a game.
“It is amazing how things like that can be a blessing in disguise, because it would have shown them the resilience that Michael has got,” Smith said. “He sticks at it and he is a really good kid and has a solid character, and works really hard and doesn’t cheat, he really puts the work in.”
Dickson is averaging 47.3 yards per punt this year. If he maintains that average, through to the end of the 2016 season, he will break the school’s record for single-season punting average (46.6), set in 1976. Dickson also has a career-best punt of 64 yards.