Besides Touchbacks, Rodrigo Blankenship Provides Life Lesson

Patrick Garbin, Staff
GA Varsity
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Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship seems so far removed from the somewhat tumultuous circumstances involving his father, Ken Blankenship, head coach Kirby Smart, and the then-redshirt freshman placekicker’s pursuit of an athletic scholarship.

Towards the end of last football season, in an email sent to a media outlet covering the Georgia program, the elder Blankenship defended his son after the younger Blankenship and his family were informed he would not be put on scholarship until, at the earliest, the next school year—and, even then, a scholarship wasn’t guaranteed.

Soon thereafter, Blankenship was named to the FWAA Freshman All-American team for 2016. He then beat out David Marvin, a graduate transfer from Wofford, for the starting placekicker role during fall camp, followed by being one of the standouts in the Bulldogs’ season-opening win over Appalachian State.

Blankenship was granted a scholarship by Smart on September 8, the day before Georgia defeated Notre Dame in South Bend.

“Rod’s one of the best teammates on this team,” Smart said during his Tuesday press conference. “He sits right there in that seat (pointing to front row) in every team meeting, and he’s on the edge of his seat. He’s so excited to be a part of this program. He’s done nothing but work his tail off. So, I was very happy to be able to reward him on what he’s done.’’

Blankenship’s quest for a scholarship, and finally receiving one, offers a valuable life lesson for sure—a message, according to the placekicker, of hard work and strong support leading to obtaining one’s goals.

“Stick to your goals, stick to your morals and values,” Blankenship said when asked if he had learned a life lesson from his experience. “No matter what you want to put your mind to, if you got the right support behind you, you can accomplish pretty much anything.”

What Blankenship has accomplished through the season’s first three games is rather notable. The sophomore placekicker has made three of four field goals and all 11 of his extra-point attempts. In addition, perhaps more so, 13 of Blankenship’s 18 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks—a 73.1 team touchback percentage which ranks 14th of the FBS’ 125 teams. Last season, only 35.8 percent of Georgia’s kickoffs went for touchbacks, which ranked 65th in the FBS.

When asked, the head coach was honestly unsure of the reason for Blankenship’s sudden success on kickoffs.

‘’I’ll be honest with you. I couldn’t tell you. I think his dad’s had a lot to do with it,” Smart said. “But some of it, [Rodrigo] changed his approach. I know his dad worked with him on it. I know he felt much more comfortable about it and had more competition. He raised his competition level up to beat the competition.’’

Blankenship said his father had “been there for me every step of the way.” He has been the placekicker’s primary coach since he started playing football—and, every chance he has to go home during the offseason, Rodrigo does so to work with his father on placekicking.

As indicated, the extra work has certainly paid off. Maybe more so than touchback percentage, a telling statistic is the opponent’s starting field position following a kickoff. For Blankenship in 2016, the opposition’s average starting field position following a kickoff was its own 29-yard line. Entering this Saturday’s Mississippi State game, the starting average following Blankenship's kickoffs has been significantly reduced to the 23.6-yard line. Besides his father, the placekicker attributes his progress to a couple of other factors.

“The first thing is I’m feeling a lot stronger. Our strength staff is incredible,” Blankenship said. “The other thing is I changed my approach. I think I was coming in (approaching the kickoff) a little too wide last season and I wasn’t able to dedicate my [kicking] swing and follow through like I needed to. Now, I’m approaching a little tighter to the ball and it’s really freed up my swing.”

Still, although adversity led to his achievements, ultimately followed by a much-desired scholarship, Blankenship is fully aware that reaching his goal could be short-lived. At Georgia, besides defensive back Aaron Davis—a special case—all walk-ons who have been placed on scholarship are granted the one-year variety. In other words, this time next year, Blankenship could find himself exactly where he was only a month ago—without a scholarship.

Accordingly, although finally receiving a scholarship while being able to provide a valuable life lesson, the Bulldogs’ placekicker is fully aware that he essentially is fighting to keep his scholarship repeatedly in a time period much shorter than one year: “Each and every day,” Blankenship said, “and, definitely, every Saturday.”

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