Michael Sleep-Dalton had quite the unconventional story when he got to Iowa last summer as a new Hawkeyes punter, and the last month certainly hasn’t put him on a more-traditional path toward a hoped-for NFL tryout.
“We obviously didn’t experience Pro Day,” the senior said by phone Monday, “which was unfortunate. I wanted to show the scouts how I’ve improved. So Jackson (Hawkeyes senior long snapper Jackson Subbert) and I had our own Pro Day.”
Sleep-Dalton put together an eight-minute video last month of Subbert snapping and Sleep-Dalton punting on a Hawkeyes practice field. The video featured right hash spirals, open field spirals, pooch kicks. The distances, hang times and times between the ball going from Sleep-Dalton’s hands to his foot were listed on the video.
“We did what we pretty much would have done on Pro Day,” Sleep-Dalton said. “Hopefully it will get at least some attention.”
COVID-19 hit the fan in the U.S. before Iowa could host its annual Pro Day, when representatives of most if not all NFL franchises descended upon the Hawkeyes’ practice facility to measure, test and time players they would consider drafting or signing to free agent contracts.
“On Tuesday of spring break week we got a text that Pro Day had been postponed,” Sleep-Dalton said. “A couple days later we got the email that all classes would be online until the end of the semester.
“My fiancee said we might as well go to Florida.”
No, not for an ill-advised spring break. His fiancee, whom he met when he played at Arizona State, is from Miami.
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“It made sense to be with her family instead of by ourselves in Iowa or Arizona,” said Sleep-Dalton.
“I have a mate who is a punter at the University of Miami, Louie (Hedley, a fellow Australian). He lives with a long snapper. The boys can get on the field there. We’re there Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”
Sleep-Dalton elevated the Hawkeyes’ punting performance last season. Iowa was 118th in the nation in punting in 2018 with a 37.9-yard average and no punts of 50-plus yards. Sleep-Dalton had 58 punts for a 41.7-yard average and 10 of 50-plus.
He did that as a 27-year-old. As previously stated, his was an uncommon path.
He was an electrician in Australia who decided he wanted to become an American football punter and hooked on with Prokick Australia, which has sent dozens of punters to America. Australian rules football puts a premium on everyone being able to kick.
Sleep-Dalton spent a year at San Francisco City College, then played two seasons at Arizona State before moving on to Iowa last year as a graduate transfer. The Hawkeyes hadn’t been in the habit of pursuing grad transfer punters or Aussies, but they welcomed Sleep-Dalton with no guarantee of playing time.
The newcomer won the job, though, and delivered.
“Of 55 punts, only 11 were returned,” Sleep-Dalton said. “We only gave up about 70 return yards all year. From that point of view, it was a really good year.
“It was a real challenge with the different weather and climates. Overall, I was pretty happy.”
So was Iowa’s staff. Enough so that the Hawkeyes went Aussie this year for another punter, Tory Taylor. Special teams coordinator Lavar Woods went to Australia to see him.
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“Iowa just suited me well,” Sleep-Dalton said. “I was already a motivated person, and I enjoy being coached properly. I felt I was coached properly there, and at a mature level.
“It was a great experience, except for the snow.”
Now it’s a matter of finding a team that will give him a chance at a training camp whenever the next NFL training camps open.
Unlike other positions, being a 27-year-old rookie punter wouldn’t be off-putting to pro teams.
“You see guys who are punters in the NFL until they’re 40 as long as their bodies are well,” Sleep-Dalton. “It’s easier for a punter or kicker to have longer careers in the NFL.
“The way I’ve been kicking the last month, two months, I’m confident I can at least compete for a job if I’m lucky enough to get an opportunity.”
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