TJ Morton, the first-year Varsity Blues punter for the 2015 season, was recognized as an OUA first-team all-star earlier this month. The honor is an impressive feat for the Elkton, Maryland, U.S. native, who is new to the Canadian version of football and adjusted himself this August to the style of play. The last time a Varsity Blues special teams player received this award was in 1990—Andrew Astrom (punter).
Morton led the OUA with a 40.2 yards per punt average, with 17 of his 68 kicks landing inside the 20-yard line.
However, this wasn’t Morton’s first year playing university football; he spent two years prior playing for Susquehanna University—an NCAA Division III University—where he accomplished phenomenal feats. “In the States, I was a two-time all-conference selection and All-American,” says Morton.
Morton began playing football at the age of six; he was initially interested in becoming a quarterback and punting was something else he was good at. “I grew a passion for kicking after I was cut in my freshman year of high school and realized that punting was my ultimate talent,” he says.
In the Canadian rules of football, the punter and kicker have more opportunities to kick during a game because of the three-down rule, compared to the four-down rule in America. If the offence doesn’t get within field goal range or score a touchdown, Morton will be given the tall task of kicking the ball as hard, high, and accurately as possible.
“In Canada, my role is highlighted more than in America. Football is football at the end of the day; however, Canadian football is a much more fun game to play,” says Morton. This past season he punted 68 times in seven games, but in Susquehanna he punted only 50 times in 10 games.
A career in executive recruiting or hotel management also enticed Morton to take the trip over the border. “The University of Toronto was the best educational opportunity that I could obtain; it was an opportunity I could not turn down,” he says.
Unfortunately, Morton and the Varsity Blues finished with a 3-5 record, one game shy of making the playoffs. Regardless, Morton is ecstatic with the relationships he’s built and places he’s seen over the past few months. “I love the city of Toronto and the guys on the team, there’s no team I’d rather play for,” says Morton. “It’s a family and one of the best teams to be a part of.”
Morton has an unusual punt form that is more typically seen in America. Most CIS punters control the ball around their hip and drop it a foot before making contact and swinging their leg. Morton holds the ball chest-high, allowing the ball to fall a few feet. Morton didn’t change his kicking form because he was already good at what he was doing before. “It is easy to maintain something that you enjoy doing and are good at,” he says.
With two years of eligibility left, Morton looks to refine his craft even more for a hopeful professional football career. “I am working hard to pursue a professional career—this year will be a huge year for me. [Training] with the team will help me achieve that goal this offseason, along with a few elite camps in the offseason,” he said. Over the winter months, he can punt in the inflatable dome that covers Varsity Field.
Morton will train with his Varsity Blues squad this offseason with hopes of beginning 2016 on the same foot he left off this year.