Michael Dickson

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

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.”

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

HOUSTON — It was the triumphant, defiant play that Texas craved so badly.

Late in the fourth quarter and deep in Missouri territory, leading by 10 with seemingly the Texas Bowl already in hand, the Longhorns opted for a reverse play. Sophomore running back Kyle Porter took a handoff from freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, only for senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman to take it back the other way.

As Foreman turned the corner and bolted upfield, Ehlinger charged in front of him and delivered a key lead block. As he’s exhibited so often this season, Ehlinger was unafraid to dish out some contact of his own, mutating from quarterback to bulldozer.

Foreman sprinted for the goal line and absorbed one final hit, plunging into the corner of the end zone. It was an exclamation point like no other — one that helped cap off the Longhorns’ 33-16 victory over Missouri on Wednesday night at NRG Stadium.

And it was one that delivered Texas its first winning season in four years.

“You can’t overstate it,” head coach Tom Herman said. “It’s really important for these guys to call themselves a winner... Again, it wasn’t gonna be life or death. We would’ve been just fine next year, but this was a big step forward.”

Texas players celebrated jubilantly on the field after the game. Herman embraced his wife and kids. Junior punter Michael Dickson, who declared for the NFL Draft last week, staged a punting clinic in his final game for the Longhorns and was named the game’s MVP.

It was noticeable by everyone’s emotions how important, and defining, a bowl win was for this long-struggling program.

On the outside looking in, it may have been just a victory in the Texas Bowl. This wasn’t a national championship win or anything remotely close to it.

But this is a program that won a bowl game for the first time since since 2012. It’s a program that finished with a winning record (7–6) for the first time since former head coach Mack Brown’s last season in 2013.

It’s a program searching for any sign of tangible momentum, and any sign of a real turnaround under Herman.

“I think tonight, Coach Herman won the locker room. 100 percent. Hearts out,” junior defensive end Breckyn Hager said. “He now has our hearts as a team.”

If there were any questions as to which team would set the tone early, it was all settled on the first drive.

The Longhorns’ offense opened with the ball and took advantage of three costly Missouri penalties — a pass interference, holding and face mask — to move deep into Tiger territory.

Sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele found a wide open Daniel Young for a 22-yard touchdown pass. The freshman running back scored with ease and Texas was in front early, 7-0.

Despite not starting, Ehlinger proceeded to enter the game on Texas’ third possession. He put the Longhorns completely in the driver seat on his second drive.

Ehlinger scrambled to his left and found junior wide receiver John Burt in the corner of the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown pass to put the Longhorns up 14-0 in the first quarter.

Missouri’s offense, which ranked top-10 nationally in scoring and total offense entering the game, was shut down for most of the first half. The Tigers didn’t cross midfield until early in the second quarter. But on that drive, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock and the offense finally found some life. Running back Ish Witter scored from four yards out, and the Texas lead was cut to 14-7.

But right when Missouri appeared ready to find its footing in the game, Witter coughed up the ball after junior defensive back P.J. Locke III knocked it loose midway through the second quarter. Junior linebacker Anthony Wheeler scooped it up and returned it 38 yards the other direction for a touchdown, delivering a mean stiff-arm to a Missouri tackler along the way.

“They say never run out of bounds, so either get tackled or score, and I just went to go to the end zone,” Wheeler said. “It was just instincts to do (the stiff-arm). I really don’t have too many moves. I just went with the stiff-arm.”

Texas was in front 21-7 and seemingly had all of the momentum.

The momentum for the Longhorns continued on Missouri’s ensuing possession when the Tigers fumbled again. Hager — who wore No. 60 on Wednesday night in honor of the late, legendary Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis — recovered the fumble.

“It’s more than a number to me, to be honest,” said Hager, who was selected by Herman during Texas’ last bowl practice to wear the number. “It was emotional, and I’m so happy that it happened in my lifetime. It’s a great accomplishment.”

Texas was in complete command heading into the locker room at halftime up 21-7.

But on the first play of the second half, Missouri wide receiver Johnathan Johnson got behind senior nickelback Antwuan Davis. Lock hit Johnson in stride for a 79-yard touchdown pass. After a mishandled snap by the placeholder, Missouri trailed 21-13.

The Tigers tacked on a field goal midway through the third quarter to cut the deficit to 21-16, but that was all they could muster the rest of the way.

The Longhorns scored 12 unanswered points to put the game away, including a safety, a 41-yard field goal from junior kicker Joshua Rowland and Foreman’s late touchdown.

Moving forward, Texas now has a full offseason to digest the whirlwind that was the 2017 season. It began with a complete thud in early September with the loss to Maryland.

It showed signs of progress against USC and Oklahoma. It spotlighted a highly-inconsistent offense against Oklahoma State and TCU — an offense that still has plenty of question marks heading into 2018.

And it took a dark turn against Texas Tech — a game that nearly defined the season.

But the taste of an all-important bowl victory will be the last memory in the minds of the Longhorns.

“Anytime you can get confidence, give confidence to a fragile group of guys, that’s big. That’s big,” Herman said. “I think it gives us a lot of hope, but the confidence part of it is the biggest thing.”

Photo Credit: Gabby Lanza | Daily Texan Staff

Junior punter and Ray Guy Award winner Michael Dickson announced on Thursday that he will forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft.

“Coming to play football for the University of Texas has been the greatest experience of my life,” Dickson said in a statement. “I am so thankful for Coach Strong giving me an opportunity back in 2015. Texas has helped lead me in the direction I want to be as a person. I have built an undeniable bond with my teammates that will last forever. I truly consider all of you my brothers.”

Dickson is the fourth Longhorn to have declared for the draft since the end of the regular season, joining junior left tackle Connor Williams, junior cornerback Holton Hill and junior safety DeShon Elliott. But unlike those three players, Dickson will still play in the Texas Bowl against Missouri on Dec. 27.

Dickson’s junior campaign was one for the books. It culminated in him becoming a unanimous first team All-American and winning the Ray Guy Award earlier this month, given to the nation’s best punter.

The Australian native led the nation in punt average at 48.4 yards per attempt. Dickson also had 34 punts of at least 50 yards and 14 punts of at least 60 yards.

He pounded a career-long 76-yarder against TCU on Nov. 4, which was the fifth-longest punt in the nation this year.

“The Texas fans have showed me so much more love than I ever expected,” Dickson said. “To be able to see and hear the appreciation from the fans each week is something that I genuinely cherish. I’m so grateful for what this country has provided me and feel as though Texas has adopted me as one of their own. I’m proud to be a Texan.

“I am excited for the opportunities that lie ahead and know that I will forever be a Texas Longhorn. I’d like to thank Coach Herman and the current staff for a great year. Thanks for understanding and supporting me throughout my decision-making process.”

The loss of Dickson next season is a big blow for the Longhorns, but Texas has already found his replacement.

Dickson’s cousin, Ryan Bujcevski, who also hails from Australia and the same training academy as Dickson, signed with Texas on Wednesday during the early signing period and plans to enroll early.

Herman said on Wednesday he has a long relationship with Prokick Australia, the punting and kicking academy that Dickson and Bujcevski trained at.

“When those guys (at Prokick) say this guy is the next whatever, you believe them because they’re that good that their job,” Herman said.

Photo Credit: Gabby Lanza | Daily Texan Staff

Texas’ players met with the media on Tuesday evening in advance of the Longhorns’ upcoming battle with winless Baylor. The Longhorns enter the matchup sitting at 3–4, 2–2 Big 12, and are looking to rebound from a 13-10 overtime loss to Oklahoma State last week. Here’s what the Longhorns had to say:


Dickson reflects on stellar season

One of the upsides for the Longhorns following Saturday’s tight defeat was the continued excellence of punter Michael Dickson. The junior from Sydney, Australia, booted 11 punts against the Cowboys, averaging 51 yards per punt. He’s also now skied a 60-plus yard punt in five of seven contests, including a 66-yarder on Saturday to pin Oklahoma State deep within its own territory.

And Dickson received some recognition for his efforts, too. The burnt orange crowd began streams of cheers for Dickson after his frequent appearances on the turf, heaping praise usually reserved for standout quarterbacks and defensive stars.

“I heard some of the chants, I love it,” Dickson said. “It means a lot to get a chant for just punting the ball. It makes me smile, makes me feel confident when I go out there.”

Dickson said his goal heading into the season was to average over 50 yards per punt. Heading into week eight, he’s just under that mark, averaging just over 49 yards per attempt. 


Crowded receivers room stays competitive

We are now seven games into Texas’ season, and seven Longhorns have tallied over 10 catches this season. With so many contributors to the unit, the burnt orange receivers know they must be ready to enter the action whenever their name is called.

“We’re a very competitive group,” senior wide receiver Lorenzo Joe said. “But we know when we get in the game, whoever’s in there, we’re going to be encouraging each other. Nobody’s getting down, it doesn’t matter who gets the most reps.”

One receiver who has been noticeably absent in recent weeks is Armanti Foreman. The senior tallied 34 catches and three touchdowns in 2016 but hasn’t appeared in a game for Texas since its battle with Iowa State on September 28. 

Head coach Tom Herman addressed Foreman’s lack of playing time, noting that poor practice performance has caused the Texas City product to remain on the bench. But Joe believes Foreman has turned a corner and will be on the field in Waco on Saturday morning.  

“I know it’s hard but (Foreman’s) handled it well,” Joe said. “He’s come out to practice the past couple of days, he’s been working really hard … We see what he’s done in the past, so when he gets out there, he’s going to make plays.”