Rodrigo Blankenship is a ‘confidence booster’ for the entire team explains former UGA punter Cam Nizialek
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#DGD: Catching up with former Bulldog Cameron Nizialek
In this week’s installment of the #DGD or “Damn Good Dawg” series, we catch up with former Georgia punter Cameron Nizialek. He was a member of Georgia’s 2017 SEC championship team, and was the team’s holder for field goals in addition to his punting duties. He joined the Bulldogs as graduate transfer from Ivy League’s Columbia University.
Nizialek will be participating in the Alliance of American Football league this spring, where he will play along with a number of former college standouts such as former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.
DawgNation: Last year you guys played in the SEC Championship, though, it was against Auburn. But there a lot of similar storylines between that game and this game. What was that week of practice with you guys being underdogs, and it also being for a spot in the College Football Playoffs?
Cameron Nizialek: Since we lost to Auburn earlier in the season, no one really expected us to win, so really we were kind of focusing on ourselves and that really worked out well for us. We thought that we had played a pretty bad game the first time around against Auburn. But we still felt we had a good shot against them and a good plan against them, and it worked out well.
DN: You bring up that no one believed in you guys last year heading into the Auburn game, and that feeling is similar with Georgia this year. How did having that feeling around the team help you guys prepare and play in the game?
CN: It definitely did. Even this year, we’ve been the favorite in every game, so being an underdog is a different attitude. You want to come in and approach every game the same way, but being an underdog allows you to play free and not worry about making small mistakes. It’s an advantage being an underdog, especially being a double-digit underdog when you have as much talent as Georgia does. I think it’s going to be a good game, and hopefully by playing free, that’ll give Georgia an edge.
DN: These aren’t the same two teams that played last January in the title, but how do you think Georgia matches up with Alabama this time around?
CN: I think it’ll be a tougher game for Georgia than last year. We just don’t have the same kind of playmakers on defense, whether it be Roquan (Smith) or Lorenzo (Carter), those speed guys who can matchup well with their skill players. Their offense is very explosive, so it will be a tough matchup. But the one area where Georgia will have a big distinct advantage is on special teams. Their kicker is not good at all, they changed punters halfway through the season, because one guy was doing really bad and this guy isn’t doing much better. He had a punt blocked against Auburn last week. So special teams is a place where I think that is going to be a real big key to the game. Rod(rigo Blankenship) is going to have to make some big kicks, and we’re going to need a big return or two to jump start the offense. I think our offense will do well enough running the ball, and getting the ball to our playmakers on the outside. The biggest hole right now is the defense in the secondary and matching up with their playmakers. But if we can make a splash on special teams and control the clock, I think we’re going to have a good chance of winning the game.
DN: So with Georgia having that special teams advantage, on a week to week basis, what kind of emphasis does Kirby Smart put on special teams?
CN: For coach Smart, special teams is one of the most important things to him. He’s one of the few coaches in the country that really prioritizes it in that way. One thing he does is he gets guys who want to be on special teams. Some of our best players last year, Roquan, Sony (Michel), Lorenzo were on my punt team last year. This year you see guys like Deandre Baker running down there on kickoff. He really gets guys to buy in, so they don’t see it as a play off but rather a play that we can gain ground on or make a splash. And he (Smart) emphasizes it that in practice everyday.
DN: Rodrigo is one of the best kickers in the country, and it was around this time last year when just about everyone started to realize that. As a teammate with him, what’s it like to have a kicker as reliable as he is, especially when that’s not always the case with that position?
CN: We’ve seen what he can do on the biggest stages. In the Rose Bowl and the national championship he made big, clutch kicks. So he really adds a lot of confidence in a close game. We know that in a close game that we’re going to beat them because their kicker isn’t good, and we know that we have Rod. It’s a real credit to him that he’s able to be as consistent as he has been. He’s a real confidence booster because we know if we get close to scoring territory, we’re going to put points on the board.
DN: When he’s getting ready to make a big kick, like in the Rose Bowl last year or in overtime of the national championship game, is he one of those guys that wants to be left alone, or is he up and around talking and cheering with other people?
CN: Rod is kind of the opposite of me personality wise. I’ve always been pretty laid back and will joke around, even in the game sometimes. But Rod is definitely a “don’t talk to me, leave me be” guy. Everyone knows he kind of does his own thing, and he’ll get the job done if you just let him do it. I wouldn’t talk to him before big kicks, but hopefully he’s got some big kicks in him this weekend.
DN: He is a junior and there is the possibility that he could declare after the season. He’s probably not thinking about that opportunity yet, but do you think there is a chance he declares after the season?
CN: I know he’s not thinking about this question right now. It’s something he could consider after the season. He’d probably be a draft guy, go late fourth, early fifth round because he’s been such a dominant player in college. That’s a decision he’s gonna have to weigh with his family, but it’s definitely something he’s not thinking about right now. He’s just worried about the SEC championship game. But it is something he’s going to have to think about because he’s a talent. When you consider how bad NFL kickers have been this year, he’s going to be a commodity.
DN: What do you think is going to happen on Saturday and what’s you score prediction?
CN: I think it’s going to be a very close game, and it will come down to special teams. Either Rod will make a big kick or their guy will attempt a big kick at the end. I would say it’s going to be a 35-34 game, with the Bulldogs on top. And hopefully I’ll be there to celebrate along with them when they do.
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