ATHENS — This is a fun time for Rodrigo Blankenship at Georgia, or at least it should be. How long it lasts ultimately will be up to head coach Kirby Smart.
If the Bulldogs can’t come up with a scholarship for the redshirt freshman walk-on from Marietta after this season, Georgia’s new star at place-kicker won’t be back next year. That’s according to Blankenship’s father.
It has been a hoot. Mostly.
“It’s really pleasing for his mother and me to see him get some kind of reward for all his hard work,” said Ken Blankenship, Rodrigo’s father, “even if it’s just on the Internet.”
If you sense some tension between the Blankenships and UGA, you’d be right. According to Ken Blankenship, this goes back to when Blankenship agreed to become at walkon at Georgia when he graduated from Sprayberry High in 2015. He has always asserted that his son, a U.S. Army All-American, had as many as 10 offers to attend other schools. He claims that Rodrigo came to UGA — which still had Marshall Morgan on the roster as a scholarshipped senior at the time — under an agreement with then-head coach Mark Richt that he’d be placed on scholarship if he eventually earned the starting job.
That narrative is disputed by others in the microcosmic world of place-kicker recruiting. Marc Nolan runs “The Kickers’ Zone” kicking camp out of Woodstock and wrote an e-book called, “The Journey: A Road Map for Every Kicking Specialist and Their Parents.” Nolan knows the Blankenships and is familiar with their recruiting story. He contends that Blankenship was never made such a promise by Richt or John Lilly, who was then co-special teams coordinator and the lead recruiter. Richt and his staff were dismissed after the regular season last year.
Rodrigo Blankenship has developed into a reliable kicker for Georgia this season, even though he is not receiving a grant-in-aid to play football. Brant Sanderlin/AJC
The Blankenships list scholarship offers from Florida, Colorado State, The Citadel, UAB, Wofford, Army, Navy, Davidson, Mercer and Cornell. That is corroborated to varying extents on recruiting websites such as 247Sports.com and Rivals.com. However, Nolan contends that not all of those were legitimate letters-of-intent.
Nolan said while he appreciates Ken Blankenship’s financial realities, he would advise him to take a different tact.
“My counsel to Ken would be to cool his jets and not force the issue,” Nolan said. “Fifty or 60 days from now you’ll know whether Kirby Smart’s going to give you an offer; he’s going to do what he has to do. I’d tell Ken not to add anymore stress to Rodrigo’s life. It’s hard enough to kick in the SEC.”
It’s somewhat of a shame that internal politics would taint such an otherwise feel-good story.
“When I think about him, I just think he wants to do anything he can to help the team,” teammate D’Andre Walker said. “When it came down to kicking situation, it was amazing what he did at Kentucky.”
As for Blankenship’s unique look and style, Walker laughed out loud. “That’s the Hot Rod look! Only Hot Rod can pull it off.”