The kickball games at Holy Family elementary in Green Bay, Wis., always turned intense when the boys from Sweetwater Court showed up.
Gophers kicker Emmit Carpenter and former Gophers punter Peter Mortell grew up across the cul-de-sac from each other, launching footballs over each other’s houses. Their teachers at Holy Family weren’t impressed.
“Whether we’d be hitting windows with the kickballs or putting them on the roof of the school, we were always in some sort of trouble,” said Carpenter, who continues to establish himself as one of the top kickers in the Big Ten, if not the country.
Mortell is three years older than Carpenter and babysat him sometimes. By first grade, Carpenter got invited into the neighborhood’s tackle football games.
“He was a lot bigger than me, but I thought I could hang with the big guys,” Carpenter said. “Pete actually knocked out my first tooth.”
Under modern rules, Mortell probably would have been ejected for targeting, but he eventually made up for it. After walking on with the Gophers and becoming their starting punter, Mortell told the coaching staff to keep an eye on his old neighbor. Carpenter had become a standout kicker at Ashwaubenon High School but remained an under-the-radar recruit.
“It was so apparent to me that he was so much better than the interest he was getting,” Mortell said.
The Gophers invited Carpenter to a camp before his senior year, in 2014, and Mortell’s protégé didn’t disappoint. Jerry Kill offered Carpenter a preferred walk-on spot, and the kicker jumped at it.
Carpenter spent the next two seasons waiting, while Mortell earned Big Ten Punter of the Year honors, and Ryan Santoso became one of 10 finalists for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation’s top kicker.
But Mortell graduated, and Santoso asked coach Tracy Claeys if he could switch to punter. In what looked like a risky move at the time, Claeys agreed, eventually turning to Carpenter as the new kicker.
“I didn’t think we’d end up going backwards on that, from what I’d seen in practice,” Claeys said.
Carpenter put any lingering doubts to rest, when he made his first nine field-goal attempts. The third-year sophomore is now 16-for-18 on field goals, and 35-for-35 on extra points. He earned his second Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honor Monday, after hitting from 52 and 53 yards against Purdue.
Last week, Carpenter was named one of 20 semifinalists for the Groza Award.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Mortell said. “Outside of his physical kicking ability, he’s got a good head on his shoulders. I think he’s mentally tough, which is so important in that job.”
Mortell has watched each game on TV from Sweetwater Court this fall, while awaiting his next NFL opportunity. He got cut from the Packers after a promising preseason.
Carpenter said he spoke to Mortell for about an hour before the season opener against Oregon State, helping quash the butterflies.
“He’s the closest thing I have to a big brother,” Carpenter said. “He’s been an incredible role model for me throughout my entire life, especially getting to watch him throughout football and just how he handles himself on and off the field.”
Carpenter cherishes the friendship, even if it costs him the occasional tooth.