OK—this is for public consumption, and I am writing this only as a parent’s attempt to defend his son’s victimization of an injustice. This has gone beyond the point of money being an issue. The real issue is whether our son deserves to be on scholarship.
In two months, Coach Smart went from “We have a damn good field goal kicker over there” to “I’m not sure if we trust Rodrigo to be the player we want in that position.” That was the excuse/rationale/explanation he employed in our meeting on Jan. 2 after delivering a well-planned and well-conceived litany of deficiencies regarding our son’s practice, injury and emotional “issues.” This would be AFTER he trusted our son enough to kick field goals and extra points for the last 10 games of the season.
At the same time Coach Smart was focusing on negative issues (that we have labeled as flimsy and contrived and weightless compared to all of our son’s positives), he was also discounting, minimizing and ultimately dismissing all of Rodrigo’s on-field contributions and accomplishments, noting that they weren’t good enough to deserve a scholarship and that “somebody else” could have done the same. At no time did Coach Smart mention anything about scholarship numbers, other than to say that he never puts anyone on scholarship mid-year.
Since there will be about a half-dozen brand-new Georgia Bulldogs riding on the scholarship gravy train on Jan. 5, we beg to differ with that statement. Somebody’s going to get the scholarships left behind by Wilson, Briscoe, Choates, McGee, McGraw, McKenzie (they weren’t simply vacated into thin air, were they?), and it is very distressing to us that our son, who has ALREADY made fairly significant, valid and measurable contributions to this program commands a lower priority than those who have yet to provide a single play or single point for that same program. Isn’t Rodrigo a somewhat viable candidate for future contributions? Has he not established a somewhat impressive track record on which to base future projections?
That means the newbies will be cashing those weekly $200 maintenance checks (not to mention the free housing, tuition, books, etc.) while our son uses his debit card for weekend meals and incidentals; back home in Marietta there’s a dad who has to keep his son’s checking account balance on the plus side. Yes, our son is allowed to participate at the training table during the week —a godsend when meal plan costs are computed.
Our only conclusion, based on Coach Smart’s obvious pre-meeting preparation with intent to tear down our son’s case for a scholarship and during the meeting his dismissive categorization of our son’s achievements, is that there has never been a consideration for our son to receive a scholarship. We have to give Coach Smart credit where credit is due: just like a business manager refusing to give a raise to an employee during a sit-down meeting, he was extremely well-prepared with his list of grievances. At least employees receive a salary; our son is an unpaid employee who is actually paying his employer (that would be the University of Georgia) for the privilege of working for it. Aren’t there any alumni out there just a little bit peeved over this scenario, given Rodrigo’s apparent popularity?
The “numbers” situation in actuality is this: starting long snapper on scholarship, starting holder on scholarship, backup holder on scholarship, starting punter on scholarship, backup punter on scholarship, starting kicker walk-on. Is there anything wrong with this snapshot of the specialist group? Why are those deserving lads worthy of a scholarship while our son isn’t? What more did they do this past season that our son did not?
Coach Smart said that practice injuries were a major issue (taking up 16 of the 26 typed lines he printed out on paper to validate his refusal, with quotation marks around the word “sprained” as if to imply that our son was faking an injury), yet Rodrigo somehow managed to play in every game, while the long snapper sustained an injury that limited him to field goal/PAT snaps while someone else had to perform punt snaps for the majority of the season, the starting punter missed the last four games of the season with an injury and the backup punter missed one game with an injury.
Our son played high school games with a broken bone; our son is in the treatment room taking care of his body EVERY SINGLE DAY, injured or not, because he knows he has to be healthy so the team can depend on him; our son has never shirked his duties on or off the field. Coach Smart does not yet know our son.
Rodrigo’s accomplishments on the field — All-SEC Freshman team selection, SEC Special Teams Player of the Week, the team’s special teams player of the week four times, leading the team in scoring, providing the winning points in the games that made Georgia bowl-eligible (Kentucky, Auburn) and then providing the game-deciding points in the bowl game itself (putting the Dawgs ahead 24-23 with a fourth-quarter field goal) – as well as his accomplishments off the field – community service, seemingly significant popularity with the fan base, academic success (3.74 GPA, athletic director’s Dean’s list every full semester he’s been at UGA, straight As fall semester) — more than qualify him for an athletic scholarship. He was chosen by the coaching staff as most improved special teams player, but he did not improve enough to qualify for a scholarship? How many other walk-ons in the SEC led their teams in scoring this past season?
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.
I have known my son for almost 20 years, and I can assure anyone (and many members of Dawg Nation can confirm) that this is an incredible young man, imbued with a fantastic personality whose strengths are humility, humor, intelligence, work ethic, athleticism, competitiveness, respect for authority, courtesy, caring nature, love for animals and the list goes on. As my wife and I have said several times, we hit the kid lottery.
He must have signed a dozen autographs for UGA athletic department personnel and their family members on the game field following the bowl game; regular fans had to stay in the stands. That doesn’t happen accidentally or without good reason.
Our son being refused a scholarship is an injustice to him as well as a crushing hardship for his family. Coach Smart suggested we take out some student loans since he did not have a scholarship available. That was a half-truth; there are scholarships available, just not one for our son, and we do not accept his justification for withholding one.
Coach Smart said he came to Georgia as a walk-on and had to earn a scholarship, so he knows what our son is feeling. Our son has been a walk-on for two years and still doesn’t have a scholarship, and has made All-SEC and still does not have a scholarship. Does Coach Smart know how that feels? Did Coach Smart make All-SEC as a walk-on his freshman season?
By denying a scholarship, Coach Smart is telling us that Rodrigo’s value to the program is exactly the same as any non-playing walk-on – realistically that would be zero, equivalent to the amount of money the program has invested in any walk-on. Would Coach Smart Like to inform Dawg Nation that Rodrigo “Respect the Specs” Blankenship currently has zero value to his program? Can Coach Smart deny that his appreciation level of our son is currently zero?
Many observers would argue, of course, that Rodrigo had just as much to do with UGA’s success as any offensive, defensive or special teams teammates who are on scholarship – and certainly more to do with that success than the numerous scholarship players who do not play at all. Isn’t it difficult to rationalize having scholarship players sitting on the bench every game and a starter actually helping to win games on the field remaining a walk-on? And yet here Rodrigo is, an All-SEC performer who just triggered his tuition payment for spring semester.
If Coach Smart had simply said, whether truthfully or not, that it was a numbers issue, it would have been much better than the tearing-down tactic with our son sitting there beside us. For us, there exist no acceptable rationalizations or explanations for denying our son what he has deservedly earned: an athletic scholarship to continue playing football at the University of Georgia.
Kicker’s Dad and Kicker’s Mom