Ross Martin and Will Monday have Duke football's special teams unit looking up
There have been a number of dynamic duos over the course of sports history. There was Jordan and Pippen, Montana and Rice, Ruth and Gehrig, Messier and Gretzky. Duke football may have a special duo of its own this season: redshirt sophomore punter Will Monday and sophomore kicker Ross Martin.
Monday and Martin are each coming off of stellar freshman campaigns. Monday averaged nearly 45 yards per punt—ranking 13th nationally and first in the ACC—and Martin connected on 20 of his 23 field goal attempts while missing only one extra point. The two had enough success to be named preseason third team All-Americans at their respective positions, something Monday doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s definitely a lot of pressure, but it’s something Ross and I have been dealing with for a long time,” Monday said. “Coming out of high school we were both highly-touted recruits… this offseason, we didn’t really worry about that stuff. We knew there was a lot we could improve upon.”
As the starting placekicker last season, Martin set a Duke single-season record with 106 total points and set a single-game record for points by a freshman with 15 in an emotional win against North Carolina to seal Duke’s bowl eligibility.
For Martin, getting prepared on the field is like clockwork.
“At the end of the day, it’s one kick at a time,” Martin said. “Whether it’s a field goal or an extra point… however many opportunities I get is how many points I want to get that game”
In a wild Belk Bowl last season, in which Duke fell to Cincinnati 48-34, Monday delivered a SportsCenter top 10 play when he booted a 79-yard punt with less than three minutes to play in the first half. It was his longest punt of the season and third-longest in program history. Despite some formation confusion before the snap, Monday felt he could do something special.
“In warmups that night, the air felt like I could hit a ball a country mile,” Monday said. “I went out there, stayed comfortable, stayed relaxed, hit my best ball, and it ended up being a great ball and working out in my favor.”
When perfection is demanded every time a kicker is on the field, the stress can wear on players. For the special teams crew, serenity can be found a mere half a mile from Wallace Wade Stadium at the Duke University Golf Club.
Monday, an avid golfer, heads to the course every chance he gets. In his only two off weekends last season, over fall break and during the bye week, the Georgia native found time to play.
“Golf is something I use to get away from school,” Monday said. “I love to play. I’ve been playing with my dad and my brother for some time now. In the offseason I get to play a lot more than I do in season, especially this past summer, I got to play every other week.”
Meanwhile, Martin’s golf game is a work in progress.
“I really hadn’t golfed more than twice maybe before I got to Duke,” Martin said. “It’s more of something for me to get better at. I’m not going to say I’m remotely decent, but it’s a lot of fun and we always have a good time out there.”
Getting away from football, however, doesn’t mean the competition has to stop as well.
“[Ross] and [long snapper Thomas Hennessy] ended up beating me,” Monday said. “They were playing best ball against my one ball, so that was a bitter loss at the end of the summer.”
Whether it is on the golf course or on the football field, Monday and Martin are ready to compete. As for the team’s chances at going to another bowl game, sprits appear to be running high.
“With the team we have now and all the athletes we have on the team, the ball’s really in our court,” Martin said. “Every game on our schedule this year, if we play our game, we should win; we expect to win. It’s just a matter of us doing well and playing our A-game.”