Mortell helps Minnesota flip field

The punter is first in Gophers history in career average yardage per punt.

Ryan Falk

At most colleges, punters are seen and not heard, but Minnesota’s has a cult following.
 
Gophers redshirt senior punter Peter Mortell’s face is a common sight on Saturdays at TCF Bank stadium, as fans hold up big cutouts of it in the stands. Mortell said it’s something he couldn’t have imagined, but he loves the way fans have embraced him.
 
“Whatever gets the crowd riled up and makes them louder,” Mortell said. “If that’s putting my head up there, then there you go.” 
 
Mortell didn’t start out as a punter, and was even named second-team all-conference at wide receiver in high school at Notre Dame Academy in Green Bay, Wis. After his team’s punter went down with an injury, however, his coach let players compete for the job and Mortell beat out 20 other players for the spot.
 
“Our guy went down and we had an open tryout,” Mortell said. “We all punted once and mine was the best so they ran with me, which is good.”
 
Now that he is a punter, Mortell is embracing it.
 
He has a strong Twitter presence, with over 5,500 followers. He was named the top college football player to follow on Twitter by NFL.com in July.
 
Mortell said the key is to not take it too seriously, and he added how much he has enjoyed the fans’ response.
 
“Just have fun with it and show everyone you’re relaxed,” Mortell said. “I think everyone appreciates that about me and it’s cool to interact with them on that level.”
 
On the field, Mortell has become a special teams weapon for the Gophers, able to pin the opposing offense deep in their territory with long punts. Mortell has averaged 44.2 yards per punt in his career, which ranks first in Minnesota history.
 
“He’s punted us out of some problems this year,” head coach Jerry Kill said. “He’s definitely an asset to our team no question about that.” 
 
One of Mortell’s strongest performances of the season came against Kent State University, where he downed five of seven punts inside the 20-yard line. 
 
Punts like this allow the Gophers’ defense to start from a more advantageous position, and Mortell said that’s something he takes pride in.
 
“It’s my job as a punter to pin opposing offenses deep and help our defense keep points off the board,” Mortell said. 
 
Mortell’s performance put him on the 2015 Ray Guy Award watch list, which is the award given to the best punter in college football. 
 
Mortell said he’s honored by the recognition, but there’s still work to be done.
 
“It’s a special recognition to be on it,” Mortell said. “It’s not going to make me punt better or worse.” 
 
Mortell has had more chances to punt with the offense struggling, with 33 punts already this season. Mortell said while that number is bittersweet, the defense and special teams need to pick the offense up.
 
“That’s what separates a good and great team,” Mortell said. “When one phase of your team isn’t clicking on all cylinders, the other two need to pick up the slack.”