Game changer: Michael Dickson, 22, American football player
My original plan was to play in the AFL so I had a gap year out of high school to see if I could do it. The Sydney Swans told me, “You’re close, but just maybe another year. See how you go in the NEAFL [North East Australian Football League].” It is like the NSW version of the VFL, but I wasn’t loving football anymore and decided it was time to give something else a go. I was going to go to university, but wanted to give punting a try before I signed up with uni.
It definitely wasn’t easy making it to the NFL. The first step was I had to leave my family in Sydney and move to Melbourne to train with Nathan Chapman at Prokick Australia. It was tough. I had to find a roommate who I didn’t know and I worked in a car wash to pay for rent and food. Thankfully I had help from my parents as well. I was only training for three or four months in Melbourne – most people are there for a year – but then the University of Texas needed someone. We ended up sending film of my punting over and they were interested.
My first game for Texas was unreal. It was against Notre Dame and in front of 80,000 people. It was crazy. I had no idea what I was doing. I was just winging it. I had 10 punts that game, which was double and sometimes triple what you would normally get in a game. I was all over the shop in the first half. I had no routine or anything. I should have been benched after that. In the second half I came out and smacked a 52-yarder down the sideline. That was just one of the steps that told me I could do it. It was a crazy experience.
I grew up in Sydney but my stepdad was from Victoria so I was always kicking an AFL ball around with him. He taught me how to kick a footy. When I was 12 he showed me what a spiral was and I had videotapes of the biggest goals in AFL history. So it had Sav Rocca, Anthony Rocca, Plugger [Tony Lockett], Darren Bennett, Ben Graham just hitting spirals from 60 metres out and I loved it. I’d go out on the street and try to do what they did. Then I eventually tried to translate that to American football.
It was watching Sav Rocca make the switch from AFL to punting in the NFL that first got me interested in the NFL. Then when I looked further into it I saw Darren Bennett and Ben Graham made it over here too.
I love being in Seattle, but I haven’t had a chance to see too much of the city. I’ve been in training camp and OTAs [organised team activities]so I’m around the Seahawks’ facility a lot. They are long days, but I have just been loving football, to be honest. I love the practice. It’s the best part of my day. I’ve just been focused on football.
Growing up in the Sutherland Shire in Sydney is a big part of who I am now. There were so many ovals and places where I could go and kick a footy every day after school no matter what. I’d find some way to kick a footy with my friends and play any type of sport we could possibly play. AFL balls, golf, soccer, rugby, tennis, Frisbee, just anything we could think of at any park or we’d go to the beach and be active. I had a very active childhood because of that setting.
My parents have always supported me growing up. They were at every game possible. They were always giving me good feedback and always trying to make me feel good about sport in the best way. They could not have handled it in a better way.
When I said I wanted to quit Aussie rules and do something else, my parents were great. They told me, “Do exactly what you love. We are going to support you no matter what you decide.” Having that reassurance made me want to go even harder. It’s that type of support that makes you be the best you can be.
This week’s highlights…
• Horseracing: Epsom Day
Saturday, 1st race 12.25pm (AEST), Royal Randwick, Sydney
• AFL: Grand final – West Coast Eagles v Collingwood
Saturday, 2.30pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground
• Rugby union: Wallabies v Springboks
Sunday, 1.05am (AEST), Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth, South Africa
• NRL: Grand final – Sydney Roosters v Melbourne Storm
Sunday, 7.20pm (AEST), ANZ Stadium, Sydney Olympic Park
• Golf: Ryder Cup, final day
Sunday, 8pm (AEST), Le Golf National, Guyancourt, France
• Motorsport: Russian F1 Grand Prix
Sunday, 9.10pm (AEST), Sochi Autodrom
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 29, 2018 as "Game changer". Subscribe here.