How Michael Turk has cemented himself as one of the nation's best punters

An unrivaled work ethic, technical growth and a reliable infrastructure have propelled Turk's rise

ASU football punter Michael Turk has become a household name in Tempe at a position that doesn’t always garner much attention. 

First, he set the NCAA single-game yards-per-punt record (minimum five attempts) in his ASU debut last season. A few months later, he ripped off 25 bench-press reps at the NFL Scouting Combine, the most by a punter since 2003. 

Then, after going undrafted, the NCAA restored Turk's eligibility at ASU due to circumstances surrounding COVID-19, Turk said. He is believed to be the first player in NCAA football history to have his eligibility reinstated after declaring for the draft.

His resumé sounds like one built up over a lifetime — but Turk, a redshirt junior who transferred to ASU after his freshman season at Lafayette College, didn’t start punting until after he graduated high school when he took a gap year to focus on his craft under the tutelage of his brother Ben Turk, a former Notre Dame punter. 

In the subsequent years, Turk has progressed rapidly, having been named First Team All-Pac-12 last season and a semi-finalist for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation's best punter. Redshirt senior long snapper Erik Dickerson attributes that progression to what he describes as an “unrivaled” work ethic.

“He never stops. I get tired after an hour-and-a-half on the field in the hot sun in the Arizona summer," Dickerson said. "I’ll be like, ‘Hey, man, I can’t go anymore.’ He’ll be out there for another two hours hitting balls by himself.”

For Turk, who special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said has clearly improved since last season, working hard has never been a problem. 

“I didn’t mind going out there and punting every day until I passed out,” Turk said of his beginnings as a punter. “It was fun.”

The technique that sets Turk apart

Over years of tireless work, Turk has refined his technique, a process both he and Dickerson say begins with the drop of the ball. 

“As long as I've known (Turk), he’s worked on his drop," Dickerson said. "He walks around the hallways just dropping the ball, all the time.”

Turk said the value of the drop was instilled with him early in his training with his brother.  

“Before our workout even started, we would make it a goal to do at least 300 drops together,” Turk said. “You can have the strongest leg in the world, but if you don't have a good drop, you're not gonna make good ball contact.”

To further increase the quality of his ball contact, Turk said in his “How to Punt a Football” YouTube video that he also changed from a “three-step shuffle” approach to a “jab-two step.” That means he now takes an initial small step in his approach before the traditional, longer strides into the kick. 

Turk analogized the less effective “shuffle” approach to the technique of Happy Gilmore, Adam Sandler’s character from the film by the same name, who takes an atypical running start to his golf swing. 

"I thought, ‘Man, if I get a lot of momentum, I’ll get a good punt,” Turk said in the video. “What really matters is ball contact and getting your energy straight through the football.”

Unconventionally, Turk also starts his jab step with his right foot forward instead of his left, a move that helps keep his steps compact, he said in the video. That efficiency of movement is another essential part of punting, as it increases control and limits the risk of a punt being blocked. 

In his focus on technical improvement, Turk pays particular attention to the form of Thomas Morstead, the New Orleans Saints’ punter, who he said wastes almost no movement and is very controlled.

“I try to emulate that," Turk said. "I know I still have a lot to work on, and I'm trying to perfect my craft, but that’s a guy I definitely look to.”

Turk's stable infrastructure

Turk has undeniably worked hard to get to where he is so quickly, but he has also been helped along the way by a network of knowledgeable mentors. That began with his brother and his uncle Matt, a former 16-year NFL punter, who he has also trained with. 

“(Having them is) obviously so valuable because (punting is) so mechanical,” Turk said. “It's so much like an art form, so you need those mentors and coaches.”

Turk continues to receive that wisdom and support at ASU, which he described as “the best college” for a punter to attend. That is, in large part, thanks to Slocum, who spent six years as the Green Bay Packers’ special teams coordinator before coming to ASU.

“I've never met someone who loves special teams as much as (Slocum),” Turk said. “We're always talking about the craft and the technique.”

On the field, Turk is also fortunate to play with Dickerson, who was recently named to the Mannelly Award Watch List, which is given to the nation’s best long snapper. 

“I think he's probably the best snapper in college football," Turk said. "His bad snaps, I can’t even tell are bad — they’re still that good.”

Slocum said Dickerson’s consistent delivery is vital to Turk’s success. 

“The punter doesn't have to reset his body (with Dickerson’s snaps),” Slocum said. “He can catch the ball and proceed into the punt without having to make an adjustment.”

Dickerson isn’t just an excellent long snapper — he and Turk also have continuity on the field, as they played together last season. 

They're also close off the field, as former roommates who have regularly practiced together since they both redshirted as transfer students two years ago. Dickerson said that relationship has been essential to their success.

“He has to trust me to throw the ball where he wants it, and I have to trust him to catch it,” Dickerson said.

All of these factors have guided Turk toward success and contributed greatly to his decision to come back to ASU despite its acquisition of punter and kicker Logan Tyler, a Florida State graduate transfer. Turk said competition with Tyler was not something he ever shied away from. 

“I think there’s competition no matter where I go,” Turk said. “Even if I do really make the NFL, and I'm the only one on the roster, there's always competition. There’s a lot of free agent punters, and if I start messing up, they’re gonna bring them in.” 

For Turk, the upcoming season presents an opportunity to show his improvement and help ASU win the Pac-12 title, which he cited as a major goal. It is a chance he will not take for granted. 

“I was thinking, after the draft, ‘Oh, man, there’s a very real possibility I may never punt in a game again,’” Turk said. “I was thankful for the experience, and I’m thankful to be back.”


Reach the reporter at cbreber@asu.edu and follow @carsobi on Twitter.

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