Kevin Butler perhaps has a better understanding of the Rodrigo Blankenship scholarship situation than just about anybody.
Butler, statistically speaking, is one of the best kickers to ever play for the University of Georgia. In his time at Georgia (1981-84), he set the school record for field goals made and career points. He still holds the Georgia record for most 50-yard field goals made. Butler was named first team All-SEC three times in his career.
He was also Blankenship’s coach this past season. Butler, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 1985, is back at Georgia finishing up his degree. This past fall, he served as an undergraduate assistant coach, working with the kickers and punters.
The former Georgia standout saw Blankenship improve greatly, especially after William Ham beat him out for the kicking job to start the season.
But as far as the question that’s on every Georgia fan’s mind — whether Blankenship should receive a scholarship — Butler gave a response similar to Blankenship’s.
“I have no real opinion on that,” Butler said. “For any college student that hopes to get a scholarship, the best way to do it is to go out there and perform and do your job professionally and be a good teammate. I’m sure, as Coach (Kirby) Smart says, he’s up for consideration. But the bottom line is that three-quarters of a season do not make a career. Let’s just keep building on it.”
NEWS ANALYSIS: On the Rodrigo Blankenship situation
Blankenship went 14-of-18 on field goals this season despite not attempting one until the fourth game of the season. At one point in the year, Blankenship made 10 consecutive field goals, including a 4-for-4 performance at Kentucky, where he kicked the game-winning field goal.
But despite his success, Blankenship has still not been given a scholarship. In a letter addressed to multiple media outlets, Blankenship’s mother and father said the lack of a scholarship was a “crushing hardship.” Blankenship apologized for his father’s actions in a note via his Twitter account late Thursday night.
— Rodrigo Blankenship (@RodTheKicker3) January 6, 2017
Butler, like Blankenship’s father, also had a son kick at Georgia, but as a punter. Drew Butler attended Georgia from 2007-11. In 2009, Drew won the Ray Guy Award, given to the best punter in college football.
Kevin Butler said he’s never spoken with Blankenship about getting a scholarship but added that he didn’t seem weighed down by the pressure of playing for one.
“I just don’t think that it’s in a player’s best interest to go out there and play and the weight of saying, ‘You’ve got to win a scholarship, you got to win one,'” Butler said. “It’s an opportunity and a chance you take whether you get a scholarship.”
As for Butler’s future with the team, that is still to be determined. He’s progressing towards a degree that he will finish next fall. He says he hopes to have discussion with Smart about potentially helping out the team again. But he also understands the time commitments that come with being a full-time coach.
The former Georgia kicker also got a very up-close look at Smart’s first season as Georgia’s head coach. And while the win-loss record may not be what fans hoped for, Butler called the season a “great success.”
“I think the biggest challenge was changing the culture and that’s not something you do overnight. You do it with consistent repetition of what your disciplines are …” Butler said. “Unless you’re left with a very full cabinet, which Georgia certainly was not, you’re gonna have come challenges.
“I think Kirby has learned a lot and he’s in the fourth quarter and that’s getting out there and getting the type of players that he wants to be the type of players that can be the foundation for his program and I think that everyone can tell that he’s got Georgia headed in the right direction.”
Georgia went 8-5 in Smart’s first season, which concluded with a 31-23 win over TCU in the Liberty Bowl. The Bulldogs currently have the No. 3 recruiting class in the country, sitting just behind Alabama and Ohio State.