Owing as much to his big leg as to his goggled face, Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship may very well be the star of the national championship game.
The Bulldogs kicker known as Hot Rod stole the hearts of college football fans across the country in the Rose Bowl against Oklahoma, partly because he banged one in from 55 yards (a Rose Bowl record) and nailed a clutch kick in overtime but also because he wears those goofy goggles. He just looks like an interesting character, and that’s because he is. Here’s what you need to know about the Bulldogs’ kicker.
This is his first season on scholarship
Blankenship took over the kicking duties in 2016 as a redshirt freshman but wasn’t put on scholarship by head coach Kirby Smart until earlier this season. (Blankenship’s father wasn’t happy about that.) Smart chose to break the news just after Blankenship hit a 30-yarder to beat Notre Dame in Georgia’s second game this season.
He has to scour the internet to find his cleats
The other bit of Blankenship’s equipment—other than the glasses—that catches the eye are his shoes. They’re pink. As Dawg Nation’s Seth Emerson detailed, Blankenship only wears one specific model of soccer cleats produced by Nike before the 2010 World Cup. Nike no longer produces this particular model, which Blankenship favors because they have a cover on top of the laces, so he has to search out pairs online. They don’t come in Georgia black or red, so pink it is.
Soccer was his gateway to kicking
The choice of cleats makes sense because, as is the case with most kickers, Blankenship was a soccer player before he turned to football—and a pretty good one.
“I was almost always playing at least a year up [in youth club soccer], maybe two years up, and that got me really well equipped for high school. I dressed for a couple of games as a freshman and when I got over to Sprayberry I started as soon as I got there, as a sophomore,” Blankenship told the team website earlier this season. “Our teams weren't so hot when I was at Sprayberry, but that's just the way it goes sometimes.”
He first started playing football at age 10 and became the first sixth-grader in Georgia school football history to make a field goal, according to Yahoo Sports.
One of his coaches is a 55-year-old current Georgia student
Legendary Georgia kicker Kevin Butler, who went on to have a long career in the NFL, went back to school last year to finish up his degree. In addition to taking five courses, Butler started working with the Bulldogs’ kickers and punters during the 2016 season and was invited back by Smart for 2017. Butler was part of another Georgia team with a shot at a national title, when the No. 1 Bulldogs played No. 2 Penn State in the Sugar Bowl. They lost, and Butler has some advice to the current Georgia specialists.
“My remark to my guys is write your own history, don’t repeat it, because nobody remembers that 1982 season,” Butler told the Chicago Tribune. “They knocked us off that year. And now the old guy gets one more crack at it.”
He might take my job
Even if he doesn’t make it to the NFL, you might be seeing plenty of Blankenship after he leaves Georgia. He’s majoring in digital and broadcast journalism at Georgia’s renowned Grady College of Journalism. So he must have known, when he decided to keep his helmet on during postgame interviews last season, that he was producing some A+ television.