And now there are three.
In one of the most-watched postseason award races, Michigan’s Garrett Moores, with wild social media support from his teammates and a spectacular two-minute video set to the Wilson Phillips song “Hold On,” is among three finalists for the soon-to-be prestigious Holder of the Year (HOTY).
The award, in its second year, was created by former Minnesota punter/holder Peter Mortell, who last year honored himself with the inaugural HOTY.
Memphis holder Evan Michael and Texas A&M’s Conner McQueen also are in the final group that Mortell describes as the “strongest class we’ve ever had.” The voting committee of one began with a 73-man “watch list,” then shaved it to 22 semifinalists before determining the final three.
The winner, who will receive a plaque, will be announced tonight either on the ESPN College Football Awards show — Chris Fowler was so charmed by the award, Mortell made a brief video appearance at the end of last year’s show — or on Twitter via Mortell’s page @PMortell1.
“He made it up as a joke on Twitter,” Moores said. “Now it’s a thing.”
It is definitely a thing. Sort of.
“The Big Ten was giving out all their awards, and I was just like, ‘How come there can’t be a field goal holder award?’ ” Mortell said, adding that a kicker can’t be great with a bad holder. “People who know me know I like joking around. But the amount of attention that’s gone along with it, people care.
“Holding and snapping, you’re only recognized if you mess up. The best mindset you can have is don’t get noticed. So I’m changing that with this whole award.”
Moores held for every extra point — Michigan was 59-of-59, with Kenny Allen making 52 and Ryan Tice seven. Did anyone notice Moores?
“When you score a touchdown, who expects to miss an extra point?” Moores said. “Some people don’t even watch the extra point. It’s so detail-oriented people don’t think about it except the people who did it.”
He also held on field goals. Michigan finished the regular season 16-of-21.
But Moores set himself apart from the holder field on two occasions this year. In the regular-season finale against Ohio State, he took a low snap from his best friend Scott Sypniewski and set it perfectly for Allen who made the 37-yard field goal in the second overtime. Fowler during the broadcast made sure to point out the steady hold and mentioned Moores is a HOTY finalist.
“That was really important,” Mortell said of the hold. “He didn’t just make this list for no reason. He’s a really good field-goal holder and he backed it up in the biggest game of the year.”
Moores had a glory moment in October in the second quarter at Rutgers. On the fake field goal, he ran for the two-point conversion, giving Michigan a 29-0 lead as the Wolverines coasted to a 78-0 victory.
“That was exciting,” said Moores, who immediately celebrated the play with Sypniewski. “We had been working on that play. Coach Jay (Harbaugh) and Coach (Chris) Partridge have to be the most prepared special teams coaches I’ve ever been around. They’re so creative seeing what teams do and how they can beaten. They happened to put me in the right spot.
“It was incredible.”
Moores, who played quarterback at Catholic Central, helping lead the team to the 2012 state championship game, came close to not pursuing football at Michigan.
“I was always going to go to Michigan,” said Moores, from Northville. “I didn’t know if I wanted to play college football. It got to the point, I really wanted to focus on school. I have aspirations for law school, and I didn’t know if I could do both. I didn’t know if I could play at the Division I level. I thought it would be a big jump.”
His coaches at Catholic Central, Tom Mach and Mike Mach, and athletic director Aaron Babicz, played a major role in encouraging Moores to pursue football at Michigan as a walk-on.
“Those two (Mike Mach and Babicz), they’re two of the greatest guys, and they would push me and say, ‘Garrett, you can play here. You can try,’ ” he said. “Coach Babicz was adamant about that. Me being here I owe to him.”
Babicz happened to be watching a highlight film that featured Moores, a two-sport athlete at Catholic Central, and sensed it wasn’t time for him to stop playing.
“I didn’t realize how good of a (senior) year he had,” Babicz said. “I just got the weird feeling to call him and said, ‘Are you sure you’re done playing football? It’s tough to put the pads way. I know you’ve been accepted, why not walk on?’ Garrett was such a good kid and such a tough competitor that I didn’t think he was done competing.
“I knew he would enjoy it. It wasn’t that tough to convince him. Sometimes you need someone else to believe in you to get you to believe in yourself. I think he needed to hear it from someone else. It’s been awesome to watch him develop.”
He got a big nudge from his parents, Jack and Teresa, who also encouraged him to continue playing football.
“They said it’s a great opportunity, you’ll regret if you don’t do it,” Moores said. “I’ve had the time of my life. I’ve had more opportunities than I ever could have imagined. I’m very thankful for all the people who helped me get to where I am. I’m happy to make them proud.”
Moores, a political science major who has a year of eligibility remaining and may pursue a Masters in Management through the Ross School of Business, took over as holder from grad-transfer punter Blake O’Neill. O’Neill was injured late last season and uncertain whether he would be healthy enough to even hold in the bowl game, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh held a mini-tryout. Moores won the job.
He worked on holding through bowl practices, but O’Neill was healthy enough to hold in the bowl game.
Then the job became his. Moores was awarded a scholarship this season.
Michigan’s field-goal kicking struggled the first half of the season. Allen, who handled all three kicking phases, and Tice combined to miss five of six attempts. Moores and Sypniewski went to work. Harbaugh said the issue across the board was timing.
“After that slump, that’s where Scott and I knew we had to make sure we had to be perfect,” Moore said. “Kenny is incredible at what he does. With the three things he did, I think he’s the most valuable specialist in the country. At that point, we felt if we do our job perfectly, Kenny can do his job.”
And now, Moores is on the verge of becoming the second winner of the Holder of the Year, which still does not have a trophy. Mortell said most trophies cost about $3,000 and his is open to any sponsorship.
Mortell famously donated his bowl-game gift cards while with Minnesota in 2014 and 2015 to buy gifts for kids, which Allen also did last year, following Mortell’s lead. Last year he partnered with the Minnesota Children’s Hospital and had a goal of raising $10,000. But with the notoriety from the Holder of the Year last year, he quickly raised more than $30,000 with donations from across the country.
He now sees the potential of the HOTY is unlimited.
“There’s a very high ceiling,” Mortell said. “I can’t believe how much attention it gets. That was never the goal of it, but now I see how many people are interested, why stop now?”
Vegas has not set odds for Moores winning, but with his teammates constantly pushing him for the award, he seems to be a lock.
“This is the first time people have even been up for it,” Moores said. “Coach Harbaugh tells us we want to win every award out there. If I can bring this one home for the team, I would like that.”