One of the reasons Michael Sleep-Dalton came to Iowa was for the challenge of punting in bad weather.
He’s gotten that at times this season, and judging by Friday’s forecast for the Hawkeyes’ regular-season finale at Nebraska — high of 44 degrees, with periods of rain — he’ll get a last chance.
“It’s been pretty cold the last few weeks,” said Sleep-Dalton, a native of Geelong, Australia who came to Iowa after kicking for two seasons at Arizona State. “I’m enjoying it.”
Kicking in the Big Ten, unlike the Pac-12, means changing conditions, especially late in the season. You might get sunny and hot weather in September, rain in October, snow and wind in November.
Getting a chance to kick in different weather is something Sleep-Dalton would have to do if he would punt in the NFL, so this was an opportunity to show his talent away from the desert heat of Arizona.
Sleep-Dalton is averaging 42.3 yards per punt this season — Colten Rastetter, Iowa’s punter last season, averaged 38.9 yards per punt — but has averaged one yard more per punt in the last five games, when the temperatures have gotten colder.
“It’s definitely been challenging, yeah,” he said. “And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I just get an opportunity to play.”
Sleep-Dalton ranks sixth among Big Ten punters in average. His longest punt of 63 yards, in the Oct. 19 game against Purdue, ranks fourth in the conference.
He has faced a variety of weather conditions this season:
• Aug. 31, Miami (Ohio) — 66 degrees, night game, 1 punt for 31 yards
• Sept. 7, Rutgers — 72 degrees, day game, 6-48.3 average.
• Sept. 14, at Iowa State — 67 degrees, rain and wet turf, 5-47.2
• Sept. 28, Middle Tennessee — 61 degrees, 1-34
• Oct. 5, at Michigan — high 50s, 7-38.3
• Oct. 12, Penn State — 52 degrees, 5-35
• Oct. 19, Purdue — 59 degrees, 4-47.2
• Oct. 26, at Northwestern — 48 degrees, rain, 6-41.8
• Nov. 9, at Wisconsin — 42 degrees, 4-41.2
• Nov. 16, Minnesota — 38 degrees, 4-42
• Nov. 23, Illinois — 35 degrees, 4-45.
Some days were calm, others were windy.
“I’ve been pretty impressed with my spirals kicking into the wind,” he said. “Yeah, everything’s an opportunity. The ball doesn’t fly as far (in cold weather), that’s for sure. You have to focus on the little things when you’re punting.”
His numbers are comparable to last season. Sleep-Dalton averaged 43.8 yards per punt in 2018, with 19 landing inside the 20-yard line, and 20 fair-catches.
This season, Sleep-Dalton has 18 kicks inside the 20, with 20 fair-catches.
“I just challenge myself every week,” he said. “Every game is different with the weather. The returners I’m coming up against are all good.
“I don’t think you’re ever fully happy. Yeah, there are kicks I would like to take back. But I see it as every kick is a learning opportunity. Yes, I’ve had a few bad kicks, generally from me trying to do too much. For the most part, I’m happy with how it’s gone.”