GREEN BAY – Peter Mortell’s dream was no different than most kids growing up in Green Bay.
With his childhood home only a few blocks away from Lambeau Field, Mortell always hoped to play for the Packers. His family’s ties to the organization run deep with his grandfather, Jerry Jr., serving as the clock operator since the Lombardi Era before his son, Jerry III, assumed the job in 2000.
Peter began tagging along with his father to home games when he was about 12 years old. While developing into an all-state punter at Green Bay Notre Dame Academy on Friday nights, Mortell spent his Sundays as a game-day assistant in the Lambeau Field press box.
When he wasn’t delivering statistics or running photo cards, Mortell often sat in his seat and thought about how all 92 active players on the field likely “had the same dream” he did, even if the NFL was like a million-to-one shot on the surface.
Maybe that’s why everything hasn’t fully set in yet for the Packers’ rookie punter. As Mortell arrived at the team’s rookie orientation Thursday, the star-gazing former walk-on at the University of Minnesota has the opportunity of a lifetime before him.
He’s a Green Bay Packer.
“Everything made a lot of sense,” Mortell said when asked why he signed with the Packers. “It’s always been a dream of mine to wear the green and gold, and play for my hometown team. It was the best opportunity for me and I’m happy I’m here.”
One of 19 college free agents the team signed on Friday, Mortell is the first Green Bay native to join the Packers since Southwest High graduate Drew Vanderlin signed to their practice squad on Oct. 17, 2012.
Mortell earned all-conference honors as a receiver, defensive back and punter during his days at Notre Dame, located roughly 2 miles from Lambeau Field. From the start, however, it was clear that his leg would be his best chance to earn a scholarship at the NCAA Division I level.
After two seasons in the shadows, Mortell emerged as a redshirt sophomore to earn a scholarship. He also left his mark on Minnesota’s record books with a career average (44.0 yards per punt) that broke a 30-year program record. He placed 76 career punts inside the 20-yard line and had 57 sail more than 50 yards.
Mortell was honored as the Big Ten punter of the year following his junior season, becoming the first Minnesota punter to ever receive the award and first Gopher specialist to earn first-team all-conference honors since 1986 (Chip Lohmiller).
In many ways, starting over as an undrafted free agent reminds him of his walk-on origins.
“I knew I was going to have to work for everything that I’d be given. No different here,” Mortell said. “I feel like I have a lot to prove. I’m definitely going to come in with a good attitude and give it my best shot and try to leave the facility each day as a better punter than when I got there.”
Mortell, who already graduated with a marketing degree and is working on his master’s in applied kinesiology, moved to San Diego to train with former Chargers punter Darren Bennett once the Gophers’ season ended with a 21-14 win over Central Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 28.
Bennett worked to clear up a few flaws in Mortell’s technique. Together, they focused on establishing more consistency in his ball placement, improving hang time and honing his directional punting.
Mortell felt confident once it came time for his local workout with the Packers in front of General Manager Ted Thompson, special teams coordinator Ron Zook, and director-football operations Eliot Wolf, who also happens to be a Green Bay Notre Dame alumnus.
The workout went well and the overall experience is what sold Mortell on signing with his hometown team following the draft. His history dealing with the elements in the Big Ten is something both parties felt was a plus.
“I punted in a Midwest climate, which isn’t very favorable for punters and kickers,” Mortell said. “To have the success that I did in the conditions I had is something that Green Bay really liked. I’m hoping for an easy transition from Minnesota to here.”
Six years ago, Mortell was handing out game recaps and stat packages. Now, he hopes it could be his name on the page. With everything he’s poured into punting, the chance to compete for a spot with the Packers is more than Mortell could ever ask for.
“I’ve been chasing this dream for a long time,” Mortell said. “I had to go over to Minnesota temporarily, but to be able to come home and have a chance in the NFL with the Packers is a special feeling.”