Welcome to your one-stop shop for all the relevant UGA football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Kirby Smart finds himself in quite a predicament with the Rodrigo Blankenship situation.
Playing chicken with a train
When Ken Blankenship, father of UGA kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, spoke up in the fall about his displeasure with Kirby Smart over the lack of a scholarship for his son, it seemed like the beginning of a drawn-out saga. Now, the next chapter in that saga has come out.
A lengthy letter, penned by both of Rodrigo’s parents, that’s critical of Smart’s handling of their son’s scholarship situation was sent to multiple media outlets on Thursday, including DawgNation. The Blankenships referred to Rodrigo’s lack of a scholarship as an “injustice” that created a “crushing hardship for his family.” The entire letter can be read here, but this is the bit that addresses Rodrigo’s future at UGA:
“Why is he remaining at a school where the head coach refuses to acknowledge that his contributions are more than worthy of being on scholarship? We cannot answer the second part of that inquiry. The first part is not that complicated to address: Rodrigo loves UGA, he loves Dawg Nation, he loves his teammates, he loves being a starting player in the SEC, he loves his major field of study and this father cannot break his son’s heart by asking him to transfer to a school that will appreciate his talents enough to pay for his education although with his accrued resume’ I don’t think it would take long to find one.”
The Blankenships’ side of the argument is easy to see and understand. They say Rodrigo has earned a scholarship through his play, just like he earned the starting kicking job, and that he is being shortchanged in favor of other players. Of course, there is nothing untrue about that, but Smart has to use a different kind of calculus while trying to build this program.
Yes, Georgia is hard up against the scholarship limit, but, at a glance, it seems strange that Smart refuses to give Blankenship a scholarship. With the decision by William Ham to step away from football, Georgia is left incredibly thin at placekicker. If he were to upset the Blankenships, specifically Rodrigo, enough to make him want to transfer, the Bulldogs could be left without a competent kicker next season. So, what reasons would he have for toeing that line?
The first reason is the incoming recruiting class, already one of the most hyped in UGA history and seemingly getting better by the week. If Smart is willing to risk losing a kicker with no other realistic options behind him, some more dominoes must be about to tip in the Class of 2017. Or, at least for the time being, he wants to save those spots in case he and his staff can turn a few unexpected guys at last minute. This won’t necessarily happen. Georgia could finish weaker than most think and then there would be a scholarship or two laying around; in which case, Rodrigo would likely get one. (The same goes for unexpected transfers opening a spot.) But based on how Smart’s recruited up until this point and the hype around this class among the recruits themselves, it’s safe to say every available scholarship will be saved for the Class of 2017.
Frankly, another possible reason is he just might not think Rodrigo is that good. Or not better than any other potential walk-ons he could find to fill the role. Rodrigo had his moments this season and showed lots of promising signs for a redshirt freshman, but, based on his stats, a convincing case can be made that, right now, he isn’t much better than a replacement-level kicker. That scholarship could be of more value if given to a player who can reinforce a position that is more difficult to strengthen. (Operative word: could.)