Emmit Carpenter’s career as a place-kicker began as a freshman at Ashwaubenon High School, about a mile away from Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. His high school coach was trying to remedy his team’s kicking woes, so he held an open tryout.
Carpenter, a wide receiver and defensive back, decided to give it a go. “I stepped up and just naturally swung at the ball and kicked it really far,” he said. “From that point on, I was just pegged as our team’s kicker.”
And from that point on, Carpenter began a journey that took him to the University of Minnesota, where he not only became one of the best kickers in Gophers history but also made a mark for serving his community. On Saturday morning, the fifth-year senior will kick in his final home game as the Gophers face Northwestern on Senior Day.
“It’s gone by scary fast,” Carpenter said. “It feels like we just started training camp, and I blinked my eyes a few times and we’re here in the middle of November and almost coming to a close.”
Minnesota’s starting kicker for the past three seasons, Carpenter has made 48 of his 59 career field-goal attempts, an 81.4 percent success rate that is the best in program history. This season, he is 12-for-15, including a career-long 53-yarder, and is flashing 2016 form, the year he went 22-for-24 and was named Big Ten kicker of the year.
Those are statistics that measure Carpenter’s performance on the field. Off the field, he has visited hospitals and helped run charity drives.
“All they’ve done is serve and give their entire time since I’ve known them, and made their life about other people,” coach P.J. Fleck said about a senior leadership core that includes Carpenter, Payton Jordahl, Blake Cashman, Jared Weyler and Jacob and Julian Huff. “… We deal with at times a selfish society. They’re going to come out as selfless.”
Values instilled early
Carpenter’s parents, Tim and Laura, saw a caring side in Emmit from a young age.
“There was always a tremendous amount of kindness and caring that was in him,” Tim said. “He picked up on other peoples’ feelings and the issues that they might have gone through, so he’s always had a great deal of empathy.”
Added Laura: “Even starting in middle school, the schools that he went to required service hours. For Emmit, it totally was natural for him to continue doing it. It was just part of his life.”
Carpenter landed at Minnesota with the help of Peter Mortell, the Gophers’ punter in the 2014 and ’15 seasons who also is from Green Bay. Mortell and other Gophers specialists were involved in charity work, and Carpenter naturally joined in. Last year, the specialists organized the “Can O’ Corn food drive” and “A Very Specialists Holiday Season.” Donations collected went toward Thanksgiving meals, and toys for University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
Carpenter’s work has been noticed. He was a preseason nominee for the Danny Wuerffel Trophy, for community service and athletic and academic achievement, and the American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team. The supply chain operations major also earned academic All-Big Ten honors in 2016 and ’17.
Carpenter credits his parents for instilling those charitable values.
“It’s just something they really stressed with me growing up, with my sister [Emelia] and our whole family,” he said. “The more that you can give to other people, the more that you can get in return. And not necessarily benefits that you get, but more that you feel good and it feels good to help other people.”
Making a difference
Carpenter’s biggest impact is with the U’s Masonic Children’s Hospital. He’s a regular visitor and keeps in touch with families who have children as patients.
“I get more out of those visits than the families do,” Carpenter said. “Those people, they’re real-life superheroes. We might think we have tough days every once in a while, but whether it’s a little kid in a hospital bed fighting cancer or the families that are going through it with the kid, those people are just so incredibly resilient and tough.”
One of the families to which Carpenter has grown close is the Passows from Clare, Iowa. Andrea and Danny Passow’s infant son, Jackson, underwent a bone-marrow transplant and chemotherapy at the hospital. During a visit, Carpenter offered a helping hand.
“The players walked in the room and the baby was crying. The mom said it’s been a really bad day, and she asked, ‘Does anybody want to hold him?’ ” Laura Carpenter recalled. “Without hesitating, Emmit said, ‘I will.’ She said she’ll never forget that because it was such a rough day and just that little act of kindness.”
That hospital room, by the way, was adorned with Iowa Hawkeyes paraphernalia. “It’s like, ‘Man, are we walking into enemy territory?’ ” Emmit said, laughing. “They’re just a wonderful family — really kind and sweet people. Their little boy is an absolute fighter.”
Carpenter’s influence rubbed off. During training camp in August, the Passows brought Jackson to an open scrimmage — dressed in a Gophers onesie.