Fox Sports

The Fifth Quarter: Peter Mortell

In this edition of our The Fifth Quarter series, GopherDigest caught up with departed All Big-Ten senior punter Peter Mortell for an in-depth interview profiling his career in Minneapolis and five seasons as a Gopher. Can you remember all the way back to high school and walk me through the recruiting process and how you eventually decided on Minnesota?

Peter Mortell: "I sent my film to the University of Minnesota four times and never heard back. I was ready to move forward and look at other schools, but my dad encouraged me to send it one more time, as the Gophers were going through a coaching change. Turns out the fifth time was the charm. They called me and apologized for the lack of responses and said all of my film was sitting on a desk. I got a call from Coach Kill and he said he liked my high school film and then gave me the opportunity to walk-on and play Big Ten football, which ultimately was the dream ever since I was a kid. I ultimately chose Minnesota because Coach Kill told me that scholarship or not, the best punter is going to punt. That mentality was good to hear because I think sometimes coaches around the country are tentative to play a walk-on over a scholarship player at times. I belived Coach Kill and knew no one would outwork me and that eventually I would earn the job. Plus, the Carlson School of Management was also very attractive to me and played a part in my decision." What other options did you have besides Minnesota and what was it like to go from Green Bay to Minneapolis?

Mortell: "I had scholarships lined up from Air Force, Central Michigan and NDSU because I chose the PWO from Minnesota. The transition from Green Bay to Minneapolis was a bit of a shock at first. I lived in Green Bay my whole life and relocating to a city like Minneapolis was an exciting time in my life. Although I was raised a pretty big Packer fan, the community here welcomed me with open arms and it's been an amazing experience." What was it like your first two seasons as you redshirted in your first year and then didn't see the field much as a redshirt frosh?

Mortell: "It was hard not playing right away, but in hindsight, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. A lot of punters have strong legs, but what separates good and great ones is between the ears. Mentally, I wasn't prepared to play in my first two years and I'm glad Coach Kill gave me more time to make that transition from high to the Big Ten a little easier. Although he did let me run two field goal fakes. Had a five yard pass and a seven yard rush that year, both unsuccessful. That was the last time I attempted to do anything athletic with a football." So your sophomore year, you finally got a chance to shine and broke a few records. Plus, you were named all Big-Ten honorable mention, so what were your thoughts on your sophomore campaign?

Mortell: "My first year punting was definitely a learning experience. I found myself in a lot of situations that I felt I didn't practice enough, such as standing in my own endzone or punting from right on the cusp of field goal range. I needed a lot of work in those areas and I struggled at times during my first year. Nevertheless, I learned what I needed to work on and ultimately ended up being pretty happy with how my first season went." How about your 2014 season where you were named the Big Ten Punter of the Year? What was the key to success that season and any specific moments that you'll always remember?

Mortell: "The 2014 season was special. I worked hardeer than I ever had the off-season after my first year of punting. For example, we had team runs and workouts every morning in the winter months before spring ball at 6:00 AM. I would do those, go to class, and then come back in the afternoon for another workout by myself. I picked up yoga to work on my flexibility and everyday would have the equipment managers shoot me jug machine balls, so I could perfect my drop. Even though it was a grind, I knew that in order to be the best you need to outwork the rest and set the foundation for a good junior season." Yoga? I'm guessing that was actually one of your tougher classes at the U.

Mortell: "A lot of nice scenery, that's for sure." How about this past season for your senior year? What will always stand out about this past season?

Mortell: "My main goal for my senior year was to improve in an area that I struggled in the year before and that was with pooch punts. Statisitically, teams have a far less chance to score if they start inside the 20 as opposed to on it (if the punt goes into the endzone) and having 12 touchbacks my junior year wasn't helping my team. Last off-season, I spent a lot of my training focusing on shooting for the 7-10 yard line instead of the 2 and I came into the season feeling a lot more comfortable. I finished my senior year with two touchbacks and had the most punts inside the 20 in the Big Ten, and that's something I was very proud of."

"The thing that will stand out the most for me during my senior year wasn't a specific win or loss. I tore my meniscus my first punt of the Nebraska making a tackle. I stayed in the game and tried to downplay the injury as much as possible, but in the end it was too much to ignore. Putting 200 lbs on a torn meniscus while punting was the hardest thing I've had to do on a football field and I ended up getting surgery the next day. The month of October was tough for me, but I learned a lot about myself and how I would respond when my back was against the wall. I had a good attitude about it and rehabbed my way back to finishing the year strong and having a good bowl game." What percent were you in November compared to the bowl game you think? Why'd you decide to keep playing through the injury as well?

Mortell: "75-80% in November and then 100% in the bowl game. I'm a guy who has had to earn everything I've ever gotten. I had to earn the chance to be a walk-on, I had to earn a scholarship, I had to earn All Big-Ten, etc. It's hard especially as a senior, to pull yourself out of something you've worked so hard for. In highsight, I probably should have sat out the Michigan game, but after that, I felt I could be effective enough to help this team, which I was." How close did you become with Coach Nunez and how key was he to your development?

Mortell: "Coach Nunez is someone who deserves a lot more credit than he receives. He is the specialists coach and handles the day to day operations of being a kicker, punter or longsnapper. Throughout my whole career, he's been the guy who absorbs all the blame, but deflects all the credit when anything goes well. He's more responsible for my success than he knows and the relationship I've developed with Coach Nunez far exceeds the football field. He's a guy I can go to on how to become a better punter as well as a better man. I hope Minnesota can keep him for a very long time." What did he work with you on specifically to make you a better punter?

Mortell: "When I first got to campus, I was very raw technically and just had a strong leg. Operationally, I was too slow. Punts would often get blocked in practice due to how long it took me to get my punt off. Coach Nunez and I would breakdown film daily and find out what specific part in my progression was slower than the rest and how we could fix it. Footwork and operation time are two very important pieces of the punting puzzle, and Coach Nunez helped me put those together." What are a few of your favorite moments from your time as a Golden Gopher?

Mortell: "A couple games specifically that will stick out are winning the Jug at Michigan, coming from behind to beat Nebraska in Lincoln, and winning the bowl game in Detroit. All three of those games will hold a special spot in my heart." Who were some of the guys on the team you grew close with over your five years at Minnesota?

Mortell: "One of my best buddies on the team is Theiren Cockran (TC). He and I came in together and both redshirted. There were around 28 guys who came in with us back in 2011, and at the end of the bowl game in Detroit, there were only five of us left. We hang out a lot outside of football and I have enjoyed beating him in Madden over the past four years." It's also no secret that you're pretty damn good at the Twitter game. How'd that all start?

Mortell: "I didn't get a Twitter until I got to college and everyone knows me as Peter the Punter, but Twitter allows people to get to know what I'm like without the pads on. I'm pretty laid back and like to have a good time and I've had a blast interacting with Gopher fans throughout the years." How'd you come up with the Holder of the Year bit, plus who helped with the design?

Mortell: "It was the time of the year where all the post-season awards were being released, and I was seeing all these special teams awards come out. The field goal holder doesn't get recognized unless you mess up. I tried to change that this year. I'm glad that people had as much fun with it as I did. Travis Perry in our recruiting office did a hell of a job with the design and it went viral the day I tweeted it." When did ESPN contact you about that tweet?

Mortell: "They emailed our SID, Paul Rovnak, the day after I sent it out and told us they wanted to feature it in the college football awards show. That was unbelivable. Were you the mastermind behind the Gopher Specialists Twitter account as well? 

Mortell: "I was part of the initial group that started it up a few years ago. The specialists spend a lot of time together. A lot of time. The Gopher Specialist page is a fun way for the guys to relax and get their mind off of football, which for a kicker, can be overwhelming at times. Everyone does a great job keeping it separate from when they're at the facility. It serves as more of an activity post practice than anything discussed during time spent at football." With all that's happened to you on Twitter, I'm curious how you think it's helped shape your life and career at Minnesota?

Mortell: "I get asked that question a lot and to be honest, I never really know how to answer it. I'm the same kid who walked in here as third string walk-on punter four years ago. The only difference is that more people know who I am from what I've done on the field. Whether I'm tweeting or talking, my attitudes the same. I think people appreciate my outlook on being a college athlete. I work my butt off and never take for granted all that the game has done for me. The best thing to come out of Twitter was the platform it gave me to raise awareness to things that are more important than college athletics, such as the partnership fundraiser for the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's hospital. The support and feedback from the community for that campaign has been nothing short of amazing. Has Twitter shaped my life and career? No. But it has helped facilitate some incredible things done off of the football field." Speaking of the fundraiser, did they approach you about it or how did that all start?

Mortell: "I approached them. My good buddy Casey O'Brien was the inspiration for it all. He is the toughest 16-year old in the world and I wanted to do something for him and other teenage patients who often get over-looked around the holiday season. I was beyond thrilled to see the feedback and support from not only this community, but people from around the country. It left me speechless. When you look back on your time at Minnesota, how do you want to be remembered?

Mortell: "Whether I am remembered or not for what I've done on the football field, that doesn't matter to me a whole lot. However, it is my hope that current and future student-athletes can learn from the example I tried to set of how you can use your platform to help others. I considered it a blessing every time I put on that Maroon and Gold, and had a hell of a time while doing it, but if my legacy starts and ends with the Children's Hospital, than that's fine by me. So what's next in life for Peter Mortell? Are you going to try and get to the NFL or what are your plans next?

Mortell: "I know it's not going to be easy, but I'm going to give the NFL a shot. It's very difficult to make it into the NFL as a punter. There are 32 jobs and usually only one or two open each year. You're not just competing with the draft elgible players, but also last year's All-Americans who didn't make it right away and also other NFL free agents who have bounced around from team to team. In a way, this feels similar to my recruiting out of high school. Much like Minnesota, I just need one team to give me a chance because I know they'll never forget it. I'll stay up at Minnesota and train with our strength staff. They're played a big part in my success, so if it's not broken why fix it?

Gopher Illustrated Top Stories