All-American punter Lucas Dean is not so American. The junior punter and holder from Dunsborough, Australia has played a pivotal role in the nationally ranked special teams until on the UTSA football team since he joined the team in 2019.
Dean got his start on the gridiron after his senior year of high school. Growing up playing Australian rules football, a game that draws influence from soccer and rugby, Dean changed the look of his game at a punting and kicking academy, ProKick Australia in Melbourne, to train for a collegiate career in America.
“In Australia, there are no college sports, no NCAA, and it is really hard to get scholarships,” Dean said. “I had the opportunity to get my degree paid for and play what is basically a professional sport.”
Training with around 30 punters, Dean joined the program that transformed Australian rules players into American punters. To prepare for the game, Dean trained three times a week while incorporating a lifting regime at ProKick while simulating the punting style and pace of the American game.
“They are really good at emulating American football as best they can,” Dean said. “It is not played at a high level over there, so it is really hard to impersonate having 10 really big guys run at you. They do their best to make it as realistic as possible.”
Transitioning from a soccer-like uniform in Australian football to carrying the weight and adjustments of the American pads, adapting was crucial in Dean’s training.
“At first it was pretty difficult, getting used to wearing shoulder pads and helmets and only having a split second to catch and kick the ball,” Dean said. “In Australian Football, we don’t wear pads or helmets or anything. It was really awkward at first trying to adjust my pads. I had a secondhand pair of pads that I bought off eBay, like middle school pads. There were straps missing and they’d always come loose, so I’d have to tighten them before every punt. Getting used to the pads was pretty weird.”
ProKick Australia has secured 75 scholarships or contracts for athletes, including players that tally 17 All-American accolades, 40 bowl victories and five Ray Guy award recipients.
“I definitely think that’s the only reason I’m here,” Dean said. “In terms of their ability to teach you the American punting style, in Australian Football is really free flowing and you tend to have a lot of time to when you get the ball to catch it and punt it. Whereas here, you only have basically a second to catch it and kick it.”
Beginning his recruiting process, Dean sent film to coaches through YouTube and Twitter since he did not have high school American-style ball film. The second time he visited America was for his visit to UTSA after previously participating in kicking camps while meeting Australian kickers who have taken to the game in the States.
“In June of 2018, I got a call from the old coaching staff that recruited me saying that they are willing to offer me,” Dean said. “From there, I went on a visit later in the year with my parents, and was like, ‘Yeah, I’m definitely coming here’ and signed when I got back to Australia.”
Dean ranked sixth nationally in the 2020 season and led Conference USA in punting. He was named Conference USA Special Teams Player of the Year, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football All-Texas College First Team pick and was first-team all-conference punter. He tallied 21 punts of over 50 yards, with 27 inside the 20-yard line, 15 inside the 10-yard line and seven within the five.
“Having a sideline routine is really important to us because obviously we can’t go out there on the field to warm up during the game,” Dean said. “Once offense goes out there, usually on first down is when I start getting loose with punts into the net. Then on second down, I get with Caleb (Cantrell), our snapper, and we get a few snaps on the side and head over to start talking to coach (Tommy) Perry. A big thing for me is controlling my breathing, not letting my heart rate get too elevated because it’s hard to hit a good punt when you’re too emotional and too hyped up. You need to be really calm and collected.”
Working with nationally ranked All-American placekicker Hunter Duplessis, Dean and the special teams unit have emphasized the importance of a weight room routine, working to break the stereotype of specialists in football.
“Getting stronger and having stronger legs helps us get more distance and pop on the ball,” Dean said. “It also helps us a lot with the confidence in your appearance, going out there knowing that if I get hit, I’m not some scrawny runt that will break a bone.”
Choosing a state with strong identity and culture, Dean’s favorite aspect of the Lone Star State are the manners and hospitality of its residents.
“I like how laid back people are here, and they’re really nice,” Dean said. “You get that southern hospitality, and that is always one thing that my parents definitely notice. Everyone’s like, ‘yes sir,’ ‘yes, ma’am,’ I find it really similar to Australia in that people are really laid back.”
Studying to receive his economic degree, Dean has two seasons of eligibility available following the 2021 season. The punter recorded his best career game this past weekend at Memphis, averaging 50.8 yards on five punts with three kicks inside the 20-yard line. Dean currently leads the conference in punting average with 45.8.