ATHENS — Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship won his fourth Special Teams Player of the Week honor of the season this week, and Kirby Smart doesn’t know what he’ll do without him.
Smart has never had any other kicker as a head coach, and he’s well-aware he has been spoiled by having one of the best in the college football ranks.
“Rodrigo has a great psyche,” Smart said. “I don’t compare him because I’ve been fortunate I haven’t had a lot of kickers. Rod’s kind of been our kicker.
“He’s got a great mental disposition and he’s got a preparation mode that he goes through. He handles the mental conditioning part and he puts himself in a good place. I think he’s bounced back really well.”
The “bounce back” was from a missed 40-yard field goal in overtime of the 20-17 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 12.
“Any time I miss a field goal, it stings, and it bothers me,” Blankenship said. “But you have to move on, because your team needs you.”
Players at every position make mistakes, whether it’s Jake Fromm throwing interceptions or missing an open receivers, or linemen missing blocks or linebackers missing tackles.
But when the kicker misses, everyone notices, and it’s magnified when the game is on the line.
Blankenship, who is 15 of 17 on field goal attempts this season, attributed much of his ability to handle the pressure to former Georgia great Kevin Butler.
Butler, a Super Bowl champion and 13-year NFL veteran who was the first kicker ever inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, worked on the UGA staff in 2016 and 2017.
“It was great resource to pick his brain and learn about how he handled things from a mental standpoint,” said Blankenship, who still talks to Butler once every couple of weeks. “He really helped with processing things in the immediate aftermath of the kick, whether it was good, whether it was bad, or whether it’s somewhere in between.
“Being able to look at it objectively, take something away from it immediately, and then put it away and come back to it and process it later.”
Blankenship reflected on Tuesday that the first thing he had to learn to process at Georgia was Smart’s coaching style.
“When I first started kicking I was very intimidated, but that could stem from a lot of things,” Blankenship said, asked about his first year playing for Smart in 2016. “Obviously Coach Smart is a very passionate coach, he’s a very energetic coach, and he’s not afraid to get in your face when you’re not performing at the standard that the university deserves, so that was a little bit of a shock to the system for me.
“But over the years we developed a sense of trust and a really good relationship. He has faith and confidence in me to go out and execute my job.”
Blankenship has earned it, connecting on a school-record 185 straight extra-point kicks while evolving into the NCAA’s active leader with 68 field goals on 81 attempts in his career.
Blankenship’s sterling resume includes hitting on 6 of 8 kicks from 50 yards and beyond, and he’s expected to be invited to the Senior Bowl and be drafted into the NFL rather than settle for free agent status.
“That man is a superstar,” teammate Malik Herring said. “I’ve never seen a kicker get that much hype.”
Indeed, the cheers are well-earned.