It is often said that special teams is the difference between winning and losing games. For the past couple of years, Minnesota has had strong special teams play highlighted by punter Peter Mortell and kicker Ryan Santoso.
Mortell, who statistically was the best punter in Minnesota history with an average of 44.0 yards, has graduated and is pursing NFL options. That means the Gophers must find a new punter. Minnesota has two punters on its spring roster in Jacob Herbers and Logan McElfresh.
Herbers redshirted last season, but was an All-State punter in 2014 at Lakeview High School in Michigan. The left-footed Herbers averaged 40.88 yards on 34 punts as a senior and was ranked as the No. 20 punter in the nation by Kohl's Kicking.
McElfresh is from Brainerd, Minn., and will be a redshirt sophomore next season. He did not see any game action last season, but averaged 34.4 yards per punt as a senior in high school in 2013. McElfresh was ranked as the No. 26 punter in his class by Kohl's Kicking.
Minnesota does have one player on its roster who has punted in a game before and that is Santoso. The strong-footed Pace, Fla., native punted once last season against Michigan as Mortell battled an injury. Santoso did punt in high school and averaged 39.26 yards on 35 punts as a senior in 2012.
While Santoso can punt if needed, he has become a fixture in the place-kicking game. The 6-5, 250-pound kicker has made 29-of-39 field goals, while his career long is 52 yards. He has also converted 76-of-77 point-after attempts and has scored 163 points (29 FGs and 76 PATs). In addition, he has kicked off 128 time and has recorded 64 touchbacks.
Santoso was named a Lou Groza Award semifinalist last season when he drilled 17-of-21 field goals, which included seven field goals greater than 40 yards. His field goal percentage of .810 was the second-highest in Big Ten and he was a perfect 10-for-10 from inside 40 yards.
Minnesota has three more kickers - Justin Juenemann, Andrew Harte and Emmit Carpenter - on its roster. Harte and Carpenter have seen limited action, while Juenemann has yet to compete in a game for the Gophers.
Harte attempted two onside in 2015 and also attempted an onside kick and a point-after attempt in 2014. Carpenter attempted one onside kick in 2015, which is his only game action for the Gophers.
Punters and kickers are not able to do their job without an effective long snapper and Minnesota has three of them on its roster in Payton Jordahl, Trey Hansen and Chase Samuels.
Jordahl redshirted in 2014 and then played in all 13 games in 2015 and served as the team's primary long snapper. He snapped all 126 attempts (74 punts, 21 FGs and 31 PATs) successfully and also made three tackles on special teams.
Hansen and Samuels both redshirted last season and have not seen game action.
Mortell was more than a record-setting punter at Minnesota. He was also the Holder of the Year, which the Gophers must replace as well. At this time, it's unclear who the frontrunner is to replace Mortell's refined rhythmic cadence.
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