IOWA CITY — Michael Sleep-Dalton will be 27 next month. He has already played football for San Francisco City College and Arizona State and is an ASU graduate.
He owns a house in Australia, paid for from the living he made there for almost four years as an industrial electrician.
Not your usual Iowa Hawkeyes player bio, is it? This least-traveled route to the Iowa football program is also the longest route. Sleep-Dalton’s hometown of Geelong is 9,528 miles from Iowa City.
“The transition in San Francisco was difficult,” he said. “It was a guy who had been living by himself in my house to living in a one-bedroom apartment with four teammates, sleeping on a pullout futon. I sort of questioned what I was doing a couple times.”
Oh, there’s also this item that distinguishes Sleep-Dalton from garden-variety Big Ten punters: He can punt with both feet. It’s not something he does for wacky YouTube videos. He’d prefer to blast the ball with his right foot. But he went southpaw for a while at Arizona State.
“I tore my quad the Sunday before our first game two years ago,” Sleep-Dalton said. “It wasn’t good. So I punted left-footed for the first four games.”
He averaged 39.9 yards over 62 punts that season. Not horrible, but not eye-popping.
“I wasn’t healthy all during the season,” he said, “but I had a good offseason going into 2018 and had a pretty good season (last year).”
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Pretty good is right. He punted 59 times for a 43.8-yard average, with 10 kicks of 50-plus yards and one of 72. Just as useful, he landed 19 punts inside the 20-yard line compared to just six touchbacks, and 20 of his kicks resulted in fair catches.
That’s what you crave if you’re Iowa, 107th nationally in net punting last season. Senior Colten Rastetter (38.9-yard average last year, 19 of 53 punts inside the 20) probably will need to be good this month in camp to keep the Hawkeyes’ starting punting role.
Arizona State is big-time college football, too, and the winters there are a bit nicer. So what’s Sleep-Dalton doing here?
“At the end of last season I had a conversation with my coaches back in Australia,” he said. “They thought I needed a bit of a change of scenery. Iowa was the best suit for my goals after this season.”
Sleep-Dalton said he wants to play in the NFL and feels he needs to get acclimated to punting in less-than-ideal weather.
“Once Michael was in the (transfer) portal he reached out and let us know he was interested in pursuing a transfer here,” said Iowa special teams coach LeVar Woods.
“An offensive analyst on that (Arizona State) staff, Kevin Mawae — who also entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame last week — he and I played together on the Tennessee Titans. When I went down there to check out Michael I ran into Kevin and found out more about the type of person Michael is. He checked the boxes. Good kid, good teammate, good player. It kind of snowballed from there.”
In the last six years, five Ray Guy Award winners were Aussies. One is Mitch Wishkowski of Utah, a good friend and former training partner of Sleep-Dalton’s, and the San Francisco 49ers’ fourth-round draft pick this year.
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Australian rules football has little use for those who can’t kick. You pass the ball to a teammate by punching it off your palm or kicking it, not throwing it. All points are scored by kicking the ball between goal posts.
“I played Australian rules football since I was old enough to walk and hold a football in my hand,” Sleep-Dalton said.
As a young adult, he veered from the sporting life to a career with American-owned Alcoa of Australia as an electrician, but then was invited to train with Prokick Australia, which has sent 75 Aussie kickers on to athletic scholarships or pro contracts in American football.
“I’ve been out in the real world and know what that takes,” said Sleep-Dalton, “and I don’t want to work a 9-to-5 again. So I thought I’d come over and pursue a goal.”
“We don’t just jump in and let anyone in this program,” said Woods. “To me, the thing that stuck out about him is he’s a really good person. I think he fits in really well with this team. I think the longer he’s here, the more you’ll appreciate him and how he goes about his business.”
A 43.8-yard average with a bunch of punts landing inside the opponents’ 20 would help, too.
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