Gophers punter Mortell keeps it light, booms it long

  • Article by: JOE CHRISTENSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 11, 2014 - 7:48 AM

When the Gophers play in Saturday’s spring game, they will have one of the best — and funniest — punters in the Big Ten.

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Peter Mortell’s punting average of 43.3 yards last season was third-best in the Big Ten and third-best in Gophers history, helping him earn a scholarship in January.

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Peter Mortell is a Green Bay, Wis., native and an unabashed Packers fan, so leave it to him to have some fun with the Vikings’ new living arrangement at TCF Bank Stadium.

“Hey @AdrianPeterson I hear we are sharing lockers at TCF Bank next year,” Mortell wrote on his Twitter feed (@PMortell37). “Keep your side clean, and we won’t have any issues. #Gophers.”

The Gophers punter was kidding, of course, just as he was last month when word spread that a Gophers defensive line recruit from Alabama, Gary Moore, can squat 680 pounds.

“Finally,” Mortell tweeted. “I hated being the only one.”

Mortell hopes his social media followers, and everyone else, have a sense a humor.

“I’m just a goofball,” he said after a recent spring practice.

He’s also one of the more successful punters in Gophers history.

Mortell’s 43.3-yard average was third-best in the Big Ten and third-best in team history.

The booming season was a bit of a surprise from the former walk-on, who redshirted in 2011 and played only two games in 2012. But before long last season, the Gophers knew they had something. In a 23-7 loss to Iowa on Sept. 28, Mortell launched a 58-yard punt and placed two inside the 20-yard line. In a 24-10 victory over Penn State on Nov. 9, he had a career-high 62-yarder and three inside the 20.

During the Texas Bowl, with the Gophers offense continuing to sputter against Syracuse, some fans joked that Mortell should be named the team’s MVP.

By the end, Mortell was almost too strong for the team’s good. His final punt came with 2:03 remaining against Syracuse. Leading 17-14, the Gophers had the ball at their own 27.

Mortell crushed a 57-yard punt — seemingly a good thing — but Brisly Estime returned it from the Syracuse 16 to the Minnesota 14, setting up the winning touchdown in the Orange’s 21-17 victory. The speedy Estime would have scored himself if Mortell hadn’t made the tackle.

“If that sideline wasn’t there, he’d still be running, let’s be honest,” Mortell said.

It seemed to be a classic case of outkicking his coverage, but Mortell doesn’t view it that way.

“I tried to kick it as far down the field as I could to try to keep them out of field-goal range because I knew it was only a three-point game,” Mortell said. “I’m not going to put it all on the coverage team, because I could have maybe handled that better. Try to take a 45-yard punt that’s higher vs. a 57-yard punt that is a little lower.”

Mortell said his offseason goals are to become better with directional punts, using the sidelines and shorter punts with more hang time when appropriate.

“That was my first year,” he said. “I’m definitely pleased with how my season went, but I’m not satisfied.”

  • related content

  • Chart: Gophers football spring game

    Thursday April 10, 2014

    Saturday, 2:30 p.m., TCF Bank StadiumAdmission: FreeTV/radio: Live on 100.3-FM, and streamed on BTN2GO.com. Replayed on Big Ten Network at...

  • Gophers football Spring Game

    Saturday, 2:30 p.m., TCF Bank Stadium

    Admission: Free

    TV/radio: Live on 100.3-FM, and streamed on BTN2GO.com. Replayed on Big Ten Network at 5:30 p.m.

    Format: Coach Jerry Kill said he is leaning toward holding a controlled scrimmage — offense vs. defense — instead of dividing the team into two separate rosters.

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