Michael Dickson didn’t know how he’d be received in the Seattle locker room when he arrived at Seahawks' training camp in late July. The Seahawks rookie punter was aware of the team’s intense nature—especially on the defensive side of the ball—and didn’t know how a special teamer drafted in the fifth round would be accepted. So as the preseason began, Dickson opted to ingratiate himself not with his voice, but his leg.
“I was a bit nervous flying up [to Seattle] for the first time,” Dickson told Sports Illustrated. “You don’t see teams trading to draft a punter too often, so I knew it was important to perform once I got there.”
The Sydney, Australia native did just that in the third week of the preseason. Lining up at the Seattle 30-yard-line against Minnesota, Dickson sailed a spiraling punt to the sideline, pinning the ball at the Vikings’ three-yard-line. As he trotted back to the sideline, a swarm of teammates mobbed him, led by seven-year veteran Bobby Wagner. Dickson had earned his keep.
“I didn’t expect such enthusiasm from my punting,” Dickson said. “But knowing I had my teammates excited gave me confidence, helped me know I belong.”
Armed with the confidence from an impressive preseason, Dickson didn’t need much time to acclimate to the bright lights of Week 1 as the Seahawks traveled to Denver. He entered the regular season the same way he left college, blasting majestic projectiles—bolstered by 5,280 feet of altitude—over the returners’ heads and into the coffin corner at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The numbers from Dickson’s NFL debut were impressive. He became the first player in NFL history to send six or more punts for an average of 59-plus yards, highlighted by a 69-yard strike in the third quarter. But the statistics alone don’t do Dickson justice, with his entire bag of tricks on display in Denver.
Dickson's second strike of the day lofted 61 yards in the air, skying above the head of Broncos returner Adam Jones. But instead of streaking into the endzone off the bounce, Dickson’s ball settled like a sand wedge, knuckling straight into the air off the nine-yard-line and into the arms of a Seahawks gunner. The Aussie took little mercy on the pigskin on his first punt of the second half, launching it 82 yards in the air. Adding a gradual fade from the right hash mark to the right sideline, Dickson pinned the Broncos at their own six-yard line. The strike elicited a gasp from the Denver crowd and a chortle from FOX NFL Analyst Mark Schlereth.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was giddy with his special-teams new toy following Week 1, albeit unsure of the magic behind his punter’s dominance.
“Oh my gosh, what a kicker man, what a kicker,” Carroll said postgame. “We are just getting warmed up with him, he is really something. I mean, the punts were gorgeous, but not just the distance of the punts, but the placement of the punts too, you know.”
Dickson’s NFL ascent has been rapid for a player who didn’t kick an American football until 2014. He entered Seahawks training camp on July 26, boomed a 61-yard punt in Seattle’s preseason opener against the Colts on Aug. 9 and seized the starting role on Aug. 20 after the Seahawks cut 10-year veteran Jon Ryan.
ProKick Australia instructor Nathan Chapman wasn’t surprised. He was on hand for some of Dickson’s first attempts during a training session at ProKick, the leading academy for aspiring punters in Australia.
“[Dickson] was impressive from the very start, we knew we wouldn’t have him for long,” Chapman told SI. “He had a big leg, different than really anything we had coached before. Then within a month we saw his work ethic and professionalism shine. We knew things were coming quickly to him.”
Dickson blew through Chapman’s training program in four months. He honed his technique with Chapman’s assistance, building strength in his leg while honing his touch inside the 20-yard-line. Dickson entered the program like a young colt, striking balls through the endzone as if unaware of his strength. But he soon learned to adjust the levels of his leg, skimming some power off his kicks until they began to routinely settle inside the 10-yard-line or skip out of bounds.
“With [Chapman] I really learned how to control the ball instead of being someone who can kick just the ball really far,” Dickson said. “Working with him brought me the understanding of touch and strategy rather than relying on my big kicks.”
Dickson was recruited to punt for the University of Texas, where he received a number of accolades in his three years with the program. Dickson won the Ray Guy Award for college football’s most outstanding punter in December 2017, then won Texas Bowl MVP in the Longhorns’ victory over Missouri three weeks later. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said Dickson was “the best punter I’ve ever seen.”
So aside from his otherworldly leg, what sets Dickson apart from his punting peers? The answer comes not from the limbs, but the brain.
“Michael is very confident in his abilities, he’s not intimidated by the crowds, not intimidated by the NFL, by any older players” Seahawks special teams coordinator Brian Schneider told SI. “He’s 100% himself, and he’s able to shut out everything and keep his routine regardless of the situation.”
Texas special teams coach Craig Naivar echoed Schneider’s sentiment. “Mistakes do not bother him,” Naivar said. “He trusts his process, he doesn’t overanalyze, it’s onto the next kick which is different than a lot of guys I’ve worked with.”
While the physical tools were present since his nascent days at Prokick, Dickson’s mental edge took time to develop. He had been a punting obsessive since first picking up football late in 2013, but earned a crash course on the pressure of American football in his freshman year at Texas. And a nightmare ending to a game against Oklahoma State in 2015 marked a key checkpoint in Dickson’s evolution.
Tied at 27-27 with 42 seconds remaining, Dickson lined up at the Longhorns 24-yard-line. A clean punt, and Texas was likely to force overtime, needing a victory to avoid dropping its third game in four weeks. Disaster struck immediately upon the snap. Dickson dropped the snap from junior Kyle Ashby, sprinting backward to retrieve the ball. The muff was scooped up, leading to a panicked punt attempt and six-yard loss. The Cowboys converted a field goal as time expired, sending Dickson off the field to a chorus of boos. It was the first adversity of his punting career.
“Going into my sophomore season I read something that said, ‘the most memorable thing about Dickson’s freshman year was him dropping the snap,’” Dickson said. “And I took that to heart. It drove me to prove people wrong. I didn’t move across the world to be a top-50 punter, I didn’t move to be top 20, I really wanted to be the best. The mistake against Oklahoma State stayed with me for a while.”
Recent performance suggests Dickson won’t experience any blunders similar to the one against Oklahoma State in the NFL. He’s earned acclaim throughout the NFL community only one week into his pro career, highlighted by fawning video breakdowns and debates over whether Dickson should be eligible for Offensive or Defensive Rookie of the Year. Never before has the league seen a punter so effortlessly knuckle the ball to the boundary, nearly guaranteeing opponents a start within their own 10-yard-line. Dickson is The Natural, Robert Redford from across the Pacific.
After such an impressive debut, what can realistically be expected of Dickson in his rookie season? To answer that, we may have to adjust our idea of a punter’s potential impact.
“With Michael, it’s best to not place limits on what he can do,” Naivar said. “He’s affected the game in a way I’ve never seen.”