Throughout his career, Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship has been one of the most popular players among fans, and for the fourth time this season he has won Special Teams Player of the Week. Last week, Blankenship was named a semi-finalist for the Lou Groza Award for the third straight year. The award is given annually to the nation’s top kicker.
Blankenship has the numbers to prove why he is a semi-finalist for the award. He has made 15 of his 17 field goal attempts this season, and three of them have been from 50 plus yards or more. Blankenship has made all 31 of his PATs this year and has 38 touchbacks. He is also averaging 9.5 points per game, and that is second in the SEC in scoring amongst kickers.
Head coach Kirby Smart knows how lucky he is to have such a weapon on special teams, and he highly praised Blankenship’s work ethic.
“Rodrigo has a great psyche,” Smart said when asked about Blankenship’s mental toughness. “I don’t compare him because I’ve been fortunate I haven’t had a lot of kickers. Rod’s been our kicker. He’s got a great mental disposition and he’s got a preparation mode that he goes through. He handles the mental conditioning part and he puts himself in a good place. I think he’s bounced back really well.”
Like a quarterback, a kicker has to have a short memory, and you have to be able to recover from a mistake quickly. Georgia’s 20-17 loss to South Carolina came after a missed 40-yard field goal attempt by Blankenship in double overtime.
“Any time I miss a field goal, it stings, and it bothers me,” Blankenship said. “But you have to move on, because your team needs you.”
It’s common for every player to make an error, but when a kicker misses a game-winning field goal, the blame gets immediately placed on them, even if it’s arguably the best kicker in the country. After that miss, Blankenship wasn’t booed out of Athens like Cody Parkey was in Chicago, but instead, the Bulldog Nation rallied behind him.
As a four year starter, Blankenship has been able to make a name for himself. He was given the nickname “Hot Rod” by fans and it stuck. During the 2018 Rose Bowl Blankenship gained national attention when he tweeted a picture of him posing with rapper Quavo from the rap group Migos. The hashtag #RespectTheSpecs became popular that day and even trended for a couple of hours.
Blankenship started out his career as a walk-on but has since then earned a scholarship. During his sophomore year, the Friday night before the Notre Dame game in South Bend, Smart approached him with the good news. It wasn’t made official yet until after the Bulldogs’ 20-19 win against the Irish.
In that game, Blankenship missed an attempt but hit two clutch field goals, including the go-ahead game-winner with 3:13 left. The Bulldogs’ defense then forced a fumble to seal the win.
Tuesday, Smart talked about how invaluable a player Blankenship is, and how hard it is to find a consistent kicker for four years.
“Yeah the unique thing is you go through that at a lot of other positions,” Smart said. “It’s kind of rare that you have a kicker for this long. I guess it’s rare you have any position for this long. You get used to it as a coach because kids move on. They get opportunities and you have to replace them. That’s the beauty of college football. Every team is different from the previous.”
This year Blankenship is not only a semi-finalist for the Groza Award, but he is also a selectee for the Burlsworth Trophy, which is given to the nation’s top player who began their career not on scholarship.
Bulldogs’ defensive lineman Malik Herring described Blankenship as one of the teams’ most passionate players and recalled back to the Arkansas State game when the starters were being announced. When Blankenship’s name was announced he received a loud standing ovation, and that cheer was louder than when Jake Fromm‘s name was called.
“That man is a superstar,” Herring said. “I’ve never seen a kicker get that much hype.”