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Saints program cover story: Thomas Morstead

See the best moments from Saints punter Thomas Morstead throughout the 2017 season.

Thomas Morstead is entering his tenth season as an integral member of the New Orleans Saints and has been widely regarded as one of the best punters in the National Football League since being selected in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL Draft (164th overall) out of SMU. Morstead first captured the hearts of the Saints faithful and football fans worldwide during his rookie campaign after executing a successful onside kick to open the second half of Super Bowl XLIV that helped propel the Saints to a 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Throughout his career, Morstead has been able to continue to grow and achieve success on the field while also serving as inspiration off the field for the causes he supports.

Since first capturing punting duties in a 2009 training camp competition, Morstead has been a weapon in the field position game with his strong leg, outstanding placement abilities and booming kickoffs. In nine years, he has a gross average of 47.0 on 527 punts, which is ranked third all-time. Morstead's 41.3 net punting average ranks second since the statistic was first compiled by the NFL in 1976. 184 punts have landed inside the 20-yard line, while he has also boomed 259 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, 258 which occurred when he handled kickoff duties from 2009-15. During the 2017 season, Morstead tied Joel Hilgenberg for 17th on the Saints all-time regular season games played list (142), when he played in every contest for the eighth time in nine seasons and ranked sixth in the NFL in net punting average (42.2). Morestead's continued development and improvement comes easier with an extensive daily workout routine. While all of New Orleans' positional players are in meetings for two-three hours per week, Morstead spends his extra time in cardiovascular and weight workouts, while also meeting with his special teams coaches, Bradford Banta, Kevin O'Dea and Mike Westhoff.

"I pride myself on being a 24-hour-a-day athlete, so my whole life revolves around recovery and preparation for being ready to perform for three hours on any given gameday," said Morstead, when asked what he attributes to his consistency on the field.

"I'm a big gym rat and I feel that being strong is an underrated quality for a punter. So a lot of times I provide the biggest advantage for my team late in the season, because I feel like I can keep myself strong."

Speaking of strong punters, with the Saints approaching their preseason finale tonight against the Los Angeles Rams, in a contest where often starters play less extensive roles in order to preserve them for regular season openers, the contest will feature two of the league's stalwarts at the position in Morstead and the Rams' Johnny Hekker. Safe to say, these two will play an important role in the battle for field position tonight for their respective teams.

Hekker, who stands 6'5" and weighs 230 pounds to Morstead's 6-4, 235 vitals, has been Morstead's biggest competition for the NFC Pro Bowl bid since he entered the league in 2012, the same year that Morstead was awarded his first and only Pro Bowl invitation. Though the two punters have similar statures and results, their style of play is quite different.

"I think we're two different players," said Morstead. "I think he's got some unique qualities to be able to run fakes and kind of be a quarterback back there. I always try to hang my hat on just being the ultimate technician."

"Johnny is my nemesis," Morstead says with laughter discussing a friendly rivalry between the two. "I have a lot of respect for Johnny, he's an excellent punter and I look forward to competing against him every time we play."

Morstead and Hekker are two of most dynamic punters this game has ever seen and are sure to put on a show tonight. Concentrating on the hometown team punter, Both his own Head Coach Sean Payton, who called the "Ambush" play in Super Bowl XLIV and a fivetime Super Bowl winning head coach have both praised Morstead's contributions to the kicking game and what how they can tilt the balance in a contest their way.

"Morstead's about as good of a punter as this league has ever seen. [He's a] tremendous, tremendous player. Accurate, long, good plus50, does everything well." Said New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, who first cut his teeth in coaching as a special teams assistant with the Detroit Lions in 1976.

When Morstead was asked if 2018 could be the year that Morstead takes back the throne from Hekker to represent the Saints in the Pro Bowl, he said, "Johnny has had so much success and taken Pro Bowls away (from me) that I'm always trying to nip at his heels and challenge him. I'm always shooting for it."

While Morstead's impact on the field helped bring the Saints their first ever World Championship, his efforts off the field have made a difference by inspiring others to give. What You Give Will Grow is Morstead's foundation that was inspired by Frank Gansz, Morstead's special teams coach at SMU, who was respected as one of the NFL's special teams pioneers during a long, distinguished coaching career. It was Gansz, tutoring Morstead in his last job, who delivered a message that still sticks with him to this day.

"What you give will grow. What you keep, you lose," was Gansz' famous quote.

A day after Morstead was drafted by the Saints in 2009, his mentor, Gansz passed away due to complications from knee replacement surgery. Morstead knew that he wanted to be a living representation of Coach Gansz and the 'What You Give Will Grow' motto would begin to take shape. In 2014, he and his wife, Lauren, started the What You Give Will Grow foundation as a way to help the New Orleans community and beyond – especially children battling cancer – and encourage the giving spirit.

Morstead's foundation gained national recognition when a Minnesota Vikings fan took notice of his toughness after Morstead sustained an injury making a tackle during the first half of the NFC Divisional Playoff game at the Minnesota Vikings on January 14, 2018. Despite being hurt early in the contest, Morstead gutted it out in the game. After the contest ended on a walk-off touchdown, Morstead returned from the locker room to participate in what would be an inconsequential two-point attempt.

Morstead's toughness and sportsmanship resonated with many Vikings fans, prompting them to donate to his charity. Less than a week later, nearly 5,500 people from across the U.S. had donated more than $221,000, topped off by a $25,000 donation by Payton. That total was donated to the Minnesota Children's Hospital, with Morstead feeling that the contributions should stay in-state to benefit the fellow residents of those who supported him.

"One of the goals of our foundation is to make people feel like their little piece can make a difference," said Morstead. "I think a lot of people don't know where to start. People want to do nice things, they want to give their time, or their resources and I feel like we've developed that energy inside of our organization to where people feel like what they're doing is impactful, even if it's a small piece."

In addition to these donations putting a positive spin on a day that most Saints fans would just assume forget, Morstead has made a massive impact in the community that he and his family have grown to call home as full-time residents. Through contributions and fundraising of hundreds of thousands of dollars, numerous educational causes, youth groups and healthcare providers in Southeast Louisiana have benefitted not only from generous donations that have supported programs and gotten them off the ground, but from the energy of volunteerism that also has been encouraged.

Most recently, Morstead put his strength to test for a heartwarming cause, as he set out to help raise $60,000 for a college fund for the children of the late Chris Cordaro, a friend and former Saints corporate sponsorship sales employee who was diagnosed with neuroendocrine carcinoma in the pancreas, liver, bone, spine, scalp and multiple lymph nodes in 2015. Morstead set out to complete 400 pull-ups in the team's weight room within one hour (he did them in one-minute intervals, in which he'd do several pull ups, then break for the remainder of the minute, then repeat). He completed 418 pull-ups and raised over $72,000 for the school fund to benefit the education of the two children of Cordaro, who passed away shortly thereafter following a long, courageous battle.

Whether he's on the playing field, in the weight room, or dedicating his time and money to a charitable cause, Morstead impacts the New Orleans community in a multitude of ways. The way he approaches his life serves as inspiration to everyone he comes in contact with.

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