Kicker Carpenter thriving for Gophers via Green Bay
MINNEAPOLIS — Where Emmit Carpenter grew up, loyalty is fierce for Wisconsin’s teams. The Packers play mere blocks away at Lambeau Field, and the Badgers are backed by a statewide following for the only FBS program in the state.
Support of the Packers runs deep through these families, but from the cul-de-sac where Carpenter’s parents reside, the view on college football is different.
"There are no Badger fans on Sweet Water Court," said Peter Mortell, who was raised next door in the village of Ashwaubenon near the municipal boundary with Green Bay and helped guide Carpenter to become the kicker for rival Minnesota. "We still fly the Gopher flag."
Mortell, the Big Ten Punter of the Year for 2014, was the team’s primary punter for three seasons through last year and finished with a career average of 44 yards per attempt that’s the best in program history. He was in training camp with his hometown Packers before being let go prior to the regular season.
Following his friend’s path, Carpenter has put himself on track for even more success as a specialist for the Gophers. In his first year in the role after redshirting in 2014 and being limited to one onside kick in 2015, Carpenter has already picked up two Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week awards. He leads the conference with 16 field goals made, out of 18 tries, and has converted all 35 extra point attempts.
Carpenter made all eight of his kicks last Saturday against Purdue , including field goals from 28, 52 and a career-long 53 yards. He knocked in the game-winner against Rutgers in the closing seconds and at Penn State gave the Gophers the lead with 54 seconds left in regulation and again in overtime of a game they lost. He’s made all seven of his field goal tries from 42 yards or farther.
"He’s so mentally ahead of the game at his age right now," Mortell said. "There are a lot of good kickers out there in the country. There are a lot of kids with big legs who can make big kicks in practice and stuff like that, but it doesn’t matter until the money’s on the line in the game, and games are won and lost between the ears with specialists."
He added: "Get used to start hearing his name, because I think he’s just getting started up there."
Ryan Santoso’s desired switch from kicker to punter for his junior season opened the door for Carpenter, who emerged from a four-way competition for the job.
"I didn’t think we’d end up going backward on that, from what I’d seen in practice," coach Tracy Claeys said.
Games aren’t the same as practice, though, and the 45-yard field goal Carpenter made in the opener against Oregon State was important for both him and the Gophers to see proof he could translate potential to production.
"I was talking to my parents about the game and all that, and they said, `What did it feel like out there?’" Carpenter said. "And the best way I could describe it to them was that after the first time I stepped on the field for a PAT, I just became addicted to the feeling of being out there. It’s a feeling that I never want to go away, and I hope to get to do it as long as I can."
Mortell was the one who encouraged Minnesota’s coaching staff to look at an under-recruited Carpenter during his senior year at Ashwaubenon. He stood out at a one-day kicking camp hosted by the Gophers and was offered a roster spot as a preferred walk-on.
Carpenter brought an all-around athlete’s ability to the position, with baseball and track in his sporting past, in addition to playing defensive back and wide receiver and earning a first team all-conference honor as a kick returner at Ashwaubenon High School. Carpenter first attended Notre Dame Academy as a freshman when Mortell was a senior there.
Since then, the two have continued to practice whenever they’re home at the same time. Mortell, who plans to attend Minnesota’s game this Saturday at Nebraska, actually used to babysit Carpenter when they were kids, and Mortell was the one responsible for Carpenter’s first lost tooth from a front-yard football game. Attending the same grade school, they used to get into trouble for kickball games that turned into distance contests with roofs and windows becoming the targets.
"Pete, 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. There are definitely a lot of lessons I can learn from Pete in all aspects of life."