Kirby Smart praises Rodrigo Blankenship: ‘He’s a valuable weapon for us’
Georgia football fans crave a national championship, and this season might be the year their wait comes to an end. However, the first step toward making that happen is for UGA coach Kirby Smart to lead the Bulldogs to a third-straight SEC East title. With that in mind, DawgNation is proud to present — in partnership with Georgia’s Own Credit Union — the “Own the East” series. A season preview content series focused on what it will take for UGA to dominate the division once again, and possibly return to the College Football Playoff.
Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship earned SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for kicking three field goals and converting all three extra-point tries in the Bulldogs’ 30-6 win vs. Vanderbilt last Saturday. It’s the kind of performance that’s become commonplace for Blankenship and UGA coach Kirby Smart made note of that fact after the game.
“He’s a valuable weapon for us,” Smart said. “A great kid and an unbelievable ambassador for the University of Georgia.”
In addition to Blankenship’s status as an “ambassador,” he’s also become quite the fan favorite. His ovations when announced as starting kicker rival the cheers that ring out for quarterback Jake Fromm — no small feat.
Yet it’s fair to say the accolades Blankenship has enjoyed the last couple seasons, and the spoils that could still come his way this season, almost were in jeopardy of never happening.
Blankenship showed promise in Smart’s first year in 2016, but Smart nonetheless brought in David Marvin — a graduate transfer from Wofford — to compete with Blankenship for the kicking job the following season. Blankenship recently shared his feelings about that moment in a video produced by UGA.
“After the 2016 season, I was a Freshman All-American and Freshman All-SEC, but I wasn’t performing at the standard this school and this program deserves to have,” Blankenship said. “Then we brought in another kicker on scholarship, so I just kind of had to go to work and prove I could be the guy.”
Blankenship blossomed in 2017, and never looked back — including kicking a 55-yard field goal to end the first half in the Rose Bowl, which kickstarted a Bulldogs comeback that ultimately resulted in one of the most thrilling wins in program history.
However, Blankenship can be forgiven if that isn’t his fondest memory from the 2017 season. There’s a chance a different moment is more prominent in his mind.
Blankenship was placed on scholarship the week of the Notre Dame game, days before kicking the game-winning field goal in front of tens of thousands of Bulldogs fans who travelled to South Bend, Ind. for the game.
Blankenship vividly remembers the details of how he found out he’d be getting his education paid for.
“I was back at my dorm on Thursday before the Notre Dame game,” Blankenship said. “[Special teams] coach [Scott] Fountain sent me a text message and said Coach Smart wants to see you before we start meetings today, and he told me I was going to be on scholarship. He said, ‘don’t tell anyone on the team yet because I’ve got something planned for it.'”
That “something” turned out to be an announcement in a jubilant locker room after UGA’s win vs. the Fighting Irish — truly a storybook moment.
“It was one of the happiest moments of my life to know the work I had been doing was going to pay off,” Blankenship said.
With funding for school out of the way, Blankenship was free to worry about other things — such as his desire to collect every touchback possible on kickoffs, something Smart doesn’t always seem to want.
“People don’t realize it but sometimes it frustrates Rod,” Smart said. “We don’t always let him kick it out of the end zone for touchbacks. There were plans not for touchbacks tonight (vs. Vanderbilt) to make sure, No. 1, we get practice at covering kicks and No. 2, the thought that we could pin them inside the 25. He doesn’t like that. He likes to kick it out of the end zone but he’s so talented that he can hang it up higher and longer than anybody in the country.”
That kicking prowess is apparently something Blankenship has possessed since he was young.
“I started playing football in fifth grade,” Blankenship said. “I was pretty good at soccer, but I realized pretty early there was a bigger and brighter future in football.”
For Blankenship, that bigger and brighter future is now.
For more on Blankenship, check out the Own the East video on the Bulldogs kicker, linked above.
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