HOUSTON – Head coach Tom Herman and President Gregory Fenves climbed the steps of the Texas Bowl stage propped up dead center in the middle of NRG Stadium. The most popular punter in the country stood directly between them.
It wasn’t either of the quarterbacks in Shane Buechele or Sam Ehlinger. It wasn’t junior linebacker Anthony Wheeler who returned a fumble for a touchdown and it wasn’t even freshman running back Daniel Young who led the team in rushing and receiving. It was the Ray Guy Award recipient junior punter Michael Dickson, the first non-offensive player to be named MVP in Texas Bowl history.
Herman hoisted the Texas Bowl trophy following the Longhorns’ 33-16 victory over Missouri, marking the burnt orange’s first bowl win since 2012. But that wasn’t what received the loudest reception.
It didn’t happen until the Most Valuable Player of the Texas Bowl was announced.
That’s when junior punter Michael Dickson stepped to the front of the stage, causing a dramatic eruption not only from his teammates who cheered directly in front of the setup, but the thousands of fans who stayed for the award ceremony.
“It means so much,” Dickson said on the stage after being awarded MVP. “I would never have thought that it would end like this. But it’s the most incredible experience. All the greatest things that could've happened, happened. I'm just so happy that I got to experience it with all these guys that are yelling at me right now.”
But the award came with little drama. Dickson’s performance throughout the entirety of the season allows him to say he’s the best punter in college football — he has a Ray Guy Award to prove it. Wednesday night in Houston was no different after yet another eye-catching performance. But he still couldn’t believe it when they announced his name as the 2017 Texas Bowl MVP.
“I didn't believe it when they told me at first, or at second,” Dickson said. “When they were leading me up the stage I was like ‘Wait why am I going on stage?’ They said ‘You’re the MVP,’ and I didn't believe it. They said it again and I still didn’t believe it. It’s still kind of sinking in now.”
The Texas defense was able to hold a potent Missouri offense averaging over 50 points in the last 6 games, to 16. And it all boiled down to field position, with Missouri having an average starting field position on its own 15-yard line.
The Australian punter booted 11 punts total in Texas’ victory. All but one received a noticeable ovation from the crowd of 67,820. Dickson punted three times in the first quarter: he pinned Missouri back to the 3-yard line, 9-yard line and 12-yard line in each of those.
This was just the beginning of Texas’ dominance on defense and special teams, and his defense was sure to show appreciation.
“He’s a real brother of mine. He’s one of my best friends on the team,” junior linebacker Breckyn Hager said. “When I see him go out there and punt, I mean I should be getting him a steak dinner every night, being a defensive guy and all. He just flips the field so I never really have to worry.”
But he wasn’t done. Dickson finished by pinning 10-of-11 punts inside the 14-yard line and 8-of-10 inside the 10. After the game, Herman was asked if he’s ever had any punter affect a game the way Dickson affected this one. Herman didn’t even let the reporter finish the question before giving his answer.
“I’ve never even seen one affect a game the way he did tonight,” Herman said. “I'm glad he's on our team.”
But Herman still refused to do one thing –– call Dickson by his name. This dates back several months ago to the Big 12 media days when Herman continued to call Michael Dickson “the punter.”
Herman later explained that he won’t call a player who is only on the field for a handful of plays by their actual name. Despite Dickson’s game-changing punts all season, especially during the Texas Bowl, Herman still refuses to say his name until he does one thing.
“When he gets his degree from the University of Texas (I’ll call him by his name)” Herman said after the game. “You guys aren't gonna bait me into it. We laugh and cut up but all those guys know that’s the deal.”
There appears to be no hard feelings from Dickson’s end of the bargain. He later said he isn’t offended by his name, or lack thereof. However, it isn’t clear when the junior will receive his degree.
On Dec. 21 the punter announced that he plans to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft and will forgo his senior season as a Longhorn.
“Everything felt like the right time,” Dickson said. “I talked with family, I talked with friends, I talked with Breckyn (Hager). I talked with a lot of guys on the team and it just felt right. When you feel a certain way about something, I felt like I needed to act on it. I felt that way about coming here to Texas, it felt right when I was in Australia and it felt right about declaring early. It’s very bittersweet because I love the team so much and I love being able to represent the Longhorns each week. It just felt right so I just had to jump on it and catch the wave.”
But Dickson did what most players who declare for the Draft don’t do –– played in the bowl game. The punter said it was important to him to put on the burnt orange and white one final time Wednesday.
“It meant so much to me,” Dickson said. “ I didn't even really know what the Texas Longhorns were about three years ago. The amount of love I have for this school and this team and each player individually has grown exponentially over the past couple of years. I understand the tradition. I understand how much this means. To be able to wear the burnt orange and white one last time in front of all these fans that appreciate us all and are really loving it just means so much and I'm so happy that we could do it and get a win.”
Michael Dickson left NRG Stadium as a Longhorn for the final time, bearing one last piece of hardware to reflect on during his Texas career. But this isn’t the last you’ll hear from Dickson.
His stock only continues to rise and will soon play on Sundays, but Texas received good news as well. His cousin, Ryan Bujcevski, who is also from Australia, recently signed with Texas.
For now, Longhorn fans will just have to thank Dickson for his three years in Austin and wish him good luck in the NFL. It seems that’s what his teammates have already started to do, too.
“I love this guy and I'm gonna miss him,” Hager said. “But I understand he’s gotta go get that money.”