How Jack Podlesny earned the chance to replace Rodrigo Blankenship as Georgia football kicker
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Getting to know Georgia football kicker Jack Podlesny as he attempts to replace Rodrigo Blankenship
Kirby Smart first referred to him as Pod. Georgia fans on Twitter have taken to calling him Hot Pod, as an ode to the man he is replacing in in Rodrigo Blankenship. The former Georgia kicker suggested the nickname Podawan, as a nod to Star Wars term for a Jedi apprentice. His high school coach Rocky Hidalgo jokingly mispronounced his name for the two years when he served as a kicker for the Glynn Academy Red Terrors in Brunswick, Ga.
But whatever you decide to call Jack Podlesny — pronounced POD-lez-knee —you’ll also want to include that he’s Georgia’s starting kicker for the 2020 season.
“I thought he did a tremendous job. He had a lot of composure. Trust me, it was not easy for him to win that job,” Smart said. “The best thing about him is he’s improved.”
So who is Podlesny, a player even the most die-hard of Georgia fans probably didn’t know about prior to August? And how did he end up as Georgia’s starting kicker, replacing last year’s Lou Groza Award winner in Blankenship?
It starts during his junior year at Glynn Academy. Podlesny was a gifted soccer player and stepped away from football as a sophomore so that he could focus on playing soccer.
But Hidalgo knew Podlesny had a big-time leg from the first time he saw him kick a football. So he convinced Podlesny to come rejoin the football team.
Podlesny though wouldn’t be thrust right into a starting role.
“He had to learn how to kick a football,” Hidalgo said. “We had a really good and established kicker when he came out as a junior. We told him to basically spend a year learning how to kick this oblong football and you might get a chance to do it in front of college in front of a lot of people.”
So that’s what Podlesny did, much like he would go on to do during his first two years on Georgia’s campus. By the time Podlesny was needed as a high school senior, he had no trouble putting the oblong ball through the uprights. As a senior, he converted on 9 of his 10 field goals, 49 of his 51 extra-point attempts. He also had 55 of his 61 kickoffs result in touchbacks.
His senior season ended in the state semifinals, but that wasn’t going to be the end of his football journey. Hidalgo had been in touch with Georgia inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann about Podlesny’s talent. From there, Glynn Academy’s special teams coordinator Kip Hall made sure that Georgia saw what Podlesny could do.
Georgia wasn’t the only school to pursue Podlesny as he also took a visit to Michigan. But the Bulldogs ultimately won out for his services and he accepted a preferred walk-on spot as a member of the 2018 class.
“It’s not like he showed up on their door-step,” Hidalgo said of the Georgia staff. “They knew what kind of kicker they were getting, that he was a potential scholarship kid. Because of his academics, his academic profile that they were able to get him on campus.”
That academic profile includes a 4.26 high school GPA while also serving as the captain of his high school soccer team. In his time at Georgia, Podlesny has been named J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics Honor Roll. He’s also a devout Christian and Blankenship credits Podlesny for helping him on his own religious journey.
Once Podlesny arrived on Georgia’s campus, he was going to have to sit again. He redshirted his first year and then sat out the 2019 season as Blankenship became the best kicker in college football.
“Rod he is a different breed,” Georgia linebacker Nate Mcbride said. “Anything you would ask of him, he’d do it. I think Jack is the same way though. He was up under Rod and got to learn all of his tricks. Jack has come a long way and I think he’s a pretty good kicker.”
Podlesny seemed to learn quite a bit from Blankenship, as he attempts to follow in Blankenship’s footsteps in going from walk-on to starting kicker for Georgia.
“Rod [Rodrigo Blankenship] was here and he was kicking with Coach [Scott] Fountain and those guys and working each day and didn’t really stand out, and he stood out this year,” Smart said. “He’s done a great job.”
And Blankenship, now the starting kicker for the Indianapolis Colts, said Podlesny’s debut against Arkansas was better than his own.
“I think he did phenomenal,” Blankenship said. “In my first game doing kickoffs in 2016 against UNC in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic I had a kickoff run back for a touchdown on me.
“I also missed my first career field goal attempt vs. Ole Miss a couple games later so he’s definitely off to a great start.”
Let’s go @JackPodlesny !! Proud of you!
— Rodrigo Blankenship (@RodTheKicker3) September 26, 2020
Blankenship texted Podlesny the morning of the game offering him up some words of advice before his first big game as Georgia’s starting college football.
“I’ve been able to see him get better every day I’ve gone to practice with him over the last 2-plus years,” Blankenship said. “I told him he’s plenty good enough to kick for Georgia and to keep it simple and just trust in all the hard work he’s put in that’s brought him this far.”
Podlesny had no problem on kickoffs, with five of his six attempts resulting in kickoffs. His first field goal attempt though was a little nervy. Georgia was down 7-2 just before halftime and Podlesny trotted out there to cap off what had been Georgia’s most positive drive of the half.
He then proceeded to doink the 38-yard field goal off the right upright. It’s not what you want on your first career kick. Fortunately for Podlesny, he got a mulligan as Arkansas had called a timeout prior to the kick and negated the errant attempt.
Podlesny flushed the miss from his mind and end up drilling the second kick, giving him his first career field goal as a Georgia Bulldog.
That ability to move on from a missed kick is something that many have praised Podlesny for in both high school and college.
“He wanted to win that job, and he really put his mind to it,” punter Jake Camarda said. “He didn’t let things get him down, whether he missed a kick in practice, that’s ok he’s got that next kick mentality every single time. He made a lot of kicks in camp and that’s why he’s starting.”
He made another attempt from the same distance in the second-half, showing that any first kick nerves were well behind him.
“He doesn’t beat himself up over things,” Hidalgo said. “He’s the type of kid when faced with barriers and failure, he’s going to reassert himself, reapply himself and go back and work hard so that he’s more successful the next go around.”
Now though comes another challenge for Podlesny. Because it’s not just enough to win the starting kicking job. He’s not got to maintain it throughout the season.
For all that Blankenship did during his time at Georgia, he didn’t win the place-kicking job right out of the gates. It wasn’t until the fourth game of his redshirt freshman season that he took up the place-kicking responsibilities.
Once Blankenship won that job, he worked just as hard to make sure he never gave it back. His friend Podlesny now will try and do the same.
“While you may have won the job, that doesn’t necessarily mean you get to keep the job,” Blankenship said. “You have to prove yourself and prove that you deserve to be the guy every single day. You have to continue to go out and earn your spot day in and day out and earn the coach’s and the team’s trust in you.”
Podlesny had an easier time winning the kickoff job than the placekicking one. He beat out Camarda and freshman Jared Zirkel for the latter, though it ook a little bit longer to do so during fall camp. He’ll have to continue to kick like he did against Arkansas to keep that title.
The redshirt sophomore kicker has a number of people rooting for him. Whether it be Blankenship, who calls him “one of the nicest guys you could ever meet,” to Hidalgo, who loves Podlesny’s sense of humor.
While those who know Podlesny may not agree on what to call him just yet, they all want to see him succeed for the Bulldogs.
“For him to go out and follow a guy like Rodrigo Blankenship and a team he grew up a fan of and loving, that’s pretty special for anybody,” Hidalgo said.
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