Last year, redshirt junior punter Michael Sleep-Dalton had a 12-yard punt from ASU’s own six-yard line against San Diego State. The Aztecs used the good field position to score a cheap shot field goal before the end of the first half in a game they’d go on to win 30-20 in Tempe.
Today, the 23rd-ranked Arizona State Sun Devils are preparing to travel to San Diego for another date with the Aztecs. Off to a surprising start under head coach Herm Edwards, Sleep-Dalton has quietly had a large part in the Sun Devils’ first two wins. His individual turnaround might be a shock to some, but it’s the first time as a Sun Devil that the punter is healthy.
On the Sunday before last year’s season opener, Sleep-Dalton tore his quad muscle in his right leg forcing him to use both legs more often than he wanted to.
“It was hard, I wasn’t as confident kicking with my left foot as my right,” he said about kicking with both legs last season. “I could get away with it, but I just didn’t have the power, penetration and consistency I do now.”
A healthy Sleep-Dalton is now doing just fine through the Sun Devils’ first two games. Heading into San Diego, the Australian punter ranks 11th in Division I in yards per punt averaging 45.4 yards over his 10 punts this year. Nearly six yards up from his average of 39.9 from 2017.
Only one of his punts has been returned this year, putting him tied for first in the category. He is also tied for the national lead with eight punts inside the 20.
When asked what the feeling is like when one of his gunners such as Paul Lucas can down a punt inside the 20 or the 10, Sleep-Dalton wasn’t shocked that his teammates were helping him.
“It’s expectation. We practice it every practice. We’re doing that. It’s an awesome feeling knowing you can pin them in the five or the 10,” he said. “We practice that every day. It’s not new to me, it’s not new to Paul. We all expect it, we practice it every day. It’s good to see it all come to play in an actual game.”
Health also isn’t the only thing improved in Sleep-Dalton’s game.
“Knowledge of the game. Being able to identify the punt return – what the guys will be coming with,” Sleep-Dalton said. “(Special Teams Coordinator Shawn) Slocum has really helped me a lot being able to read what they’re going to do.”
The punter and coach Slocum have been able to improve their relationship in their third year together. And the results are starting to show that as well.
“Relationship (with Slocum) is really good. Every day we’re doing something – if we’re in the bubble – more so in fall camp we’re doing a lot of one-on-one stuff. Now, he sort of just lets me do what I do to get myself ready for practice,” he said. “But before practice we have meetings and we always go through individual film. If I ever have any questions he’s there to answer them. In the offseason we had a lot of discussion in ways to improve my punting, it’s starting to payoff.”
A lot of eyes will go to kicker Brandon Ruiz for the importance of special teams. But Sleep-Dalton has been able to help his team win over the past two weeks. So don’t forget that punters are people too.