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Dickson's American dream

Michael Dickson at the Texas Longhorn's first preseason training session in Austin. Photo credit:
I don’t just want to stop at college level…I want to get my degree and hopefully turn pro.
Michael Dickson

Charlie Strong, head coach of the NCAA Texas Longhorns, had some encouraging words to say recently about former QBE Sydney Swans Academy member turned college punter Michael Dickson.

“He has a strong leg, a really good leg,” Strong informed the local press on the eve of preseason training in the state’s capital Austin.

“He tells you, ‘Coach, I can put the ball anywhere you want me to put it.’ I say, ‘We directional kick a lot’. He says, ‘I’ll put it where you ask me to’.”

Strong and the Longhorns made the shock move in signing the Sydney sider on a four-year scholarship less than six months since the 19-year-old made the switch from Aussie Rules to Gridiron.

“We needed a punter,” Strong continued. “We saw him on tape and once we get out on the park we’ll have a chance to see what he's all about.”

That tape was put together by punting coach Nathan Chapman of Prokick Australia after Dickson went along to a trial last year.

Averaging 50 yards (about 45m) and 4.7 seconds hang-time, vision was sent across the Pacific and the Longhorn’s took a literal punt on the big-bodied Aussie.

Less than 12 months later Dickson is now an adopted Texan and diving head first into preseason training preparing for what’s expected to be a NCAA debut against Indiana’s University of Notre Dame on September 5.

Chris Smith, Sydney Swans Academy Talent Identification & Operations Manager, believed “Dicko” had all the attributes of a serious top-grade player and was progressing well having played nine games for the NEAFL Swans last season.

“He was part of the program from day one, part of the inaugural squad which included (Isaac) Heeney, (Jordan) Foote, (Abe) Davis – all are now first year draftees,” Smith said.

“He was probably only a smidgen off being a rookie prospect…he always had an elite kick and was always requested by the NEAFL coaches.”

Leaving all that behind to take on a new sport is an incredible code hop in the scheme the youngster’s career, one which both Dickson and Smith say the QBE Sydney Swans Academy had an unintentional but influential hand in.

Dickson’s story mixed with other aspects of the program, according to Smith, are just proof the Academy’s curriculum provides more than just a pathway to an AFL list.

“We don’t just come up with AFL outcomes at the Academy – we try and help in all sports,” Smith said.

“We’re doing a bit of this with rugby. Using some conversations I have had with recruiters from the Sydney Roosters as an example, they’re after boys with good kicking skills.

“If we can get some boys in our program learning some AFL skills, particularly skill efficiency and kicking acquisition, they got back to their respective programs with a particular weapon.”

Michael Dickson is looking forward to what the future holds after earning a football scholarship to the University of Texas.

Dickson didn’t grow up watching or following American Football and, up until six months ago, he never thought his weapon of a right foot could service a college football team let alone one of the top-rated and most successful in history.

But now, Dickson has a strong desire to turn pro and punt in the NFL much in the same ilk as former AFL players Darren Bennett, Ben Graham and Saverio Rocca.

“I just wasn’t enjoying footy anymore, I was over training and wanted to do something else…I just wasn’t feeling it,” Dickson admitted.

“Punting was always a bit of joke to me. I used to have kicking competitions between mates and when they realised I could go end to end in two kicks they encouraged me to give it a go. It wasn’t until I looked into it a bit more that it was a serious option.

“And I don’t just want to stop at college level…I want to get my degree and hopefully turn pro.”

Dickson isn’t the only Swans link to the American-based code.

Avid Swans supporter Mat McBriar played for half-a-dozen NFL teams including the San Diego Chargers while 2005 Premiership hero Nick Davis tried out for a number of sides after retiring in 2009 but was unable to break through.