ATHENS — There might not be a position on the football field that requires more mental toughness than placekicker.
Kickers go from hero to goat status with the swing of a leg, and a championship stage can be merciless.
Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship is one of the Bulldogs’ all-time bests, ranking among the top NFL prospects at his position as well as 2019 Lou Groza Award favorites.
— Georgia Football (@FootballUGA) October 28, 2018
But Blankenship, like his teammates, has had to field questions this offseason about last season’s loss to Alabama and his role in the defeat.
It’s a sticky subject and narrative that the nation won’t let go after Georgia has led or been tied with the Tide for 281 of 290 plays in the games, only to falter down the stretch.
Georgia was in control of the SEC Championship Game last season, leading 28-14 midway through the third quarter, when Blankenship was called upon to attempt a 30-yard field goal.
Blankenship, as clutch as any kicker in Bulldogs’ history, missed the attempt to the left, and the Alabama sideline came to life, ultimately rallying for a 35-28 win.
Coach Kirby Smart said after the game there were too many other breakdowns to focus on one play.
“There were a lot of plays in that game everybody is going to point to,” Smart said. “Whether it’s a (missed) field goal, whether it’s a fake punt, or whether it’s a breakdown on third down contain or fourth down contain and they score: a fumble. It’s so many things.”
Blankenship, a thoughtful, introspective and accountable football star, explained on Friday how he has moved past the costly miss.
“Well, we have a 24-hour rule, so you can think about it and you can have emotions and feelings about whatever it is that just happened for 24 hours, and after that you have to move on,” Blankenship said.
“So that’s about it. It hit me the next day, but after that I just focused on moving on and now I’m ready to get going with this season.”
No doubt, Blankenship’s legend at Georgia is already sealed and none of his coaches nor teammates have any less trust in him after the flukey miss.
Blankenship has proven his mettle before, a season earlier hitting three field goals including a pressure-packed 51-yarder in the same building to give the Bulldogs a chance to beat the Tide in the CFP Championship Game.
The week before, in a shootout win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, Blankenship drilled a career-long 55-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give Georgia a lift, and then made a 38-yard field goal in the first overtime.
Handing pressure is not an issue for the sure-footed Blankenship, and neither is power: He placed 82 of his 96 kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks, preventing big special teams plays before they could even happen.
Blankenship has graduated from UGA and was one of the players many thought might go pro.
But the bespectacled kicker has returned for a final run, ready to follow his head coach’s mantra and “do more.”
“Doing more doesn’t just apply to working on the field, doing more applies to everything that we do,” Blankenship said. “It can apply to kicking and you can go out and maybe try and get a couple extra reps in and make sure that we’re sharp and crisp, but can also apply to the weight room, get a few extra reps and in the weight room, stay afterwards, get some stretching time with the coaches do some work to try and maybe get more explosive and more flexible, things like that.
“It could be do more stuff to take care of your body, spend a little bit more time in the training room, trying to make sure that your body is healthy and ready to go. And it means doing more in the classroom, make sure that you do everything that you can to pass your classes and make sure that you’re eligible and good to go for the season.”
Leadership, strong legged and mentally tough, one missed kick doesn’t figure to change any of the things that has made Blankenship a fan favorite at Georgia.