Rodrigo Blankenship’s UGA career is embellished with ups and downs, but the highest “up” is on pace to occur this season.
Blankenship is on pace to break Kevin Butler’s school single-season record for touchbacks. With 37 in seven games, Blankenship has a chance to exceed Butler’s 51 in 1981. Blankenship will have five games to get 15 more.
It’s a seismic shift from a season ago and something Blankenship takes pride in.
“For me personally, I like the idea of them not having a chance at all to return it,” Blankenship said. “When I do happen to get a touchback, it’s a sigh of relief for me. I’m just allowing our defense a guaranteed number of yards to work with when they come out on the field. I’ve been doing a pretty good job of keeping other teams in the end zone so far.”
Blankenship has at least five touchbacks in every game this season except at Notre Dame, when he posted one. He had a season-high eight against Missouri and has an average of six in SEC games. If that trajectory maintains, it would shatter Butler’s best.
“More times than not I know as soon as it comes off my foot whether or not it’s going to be a touchback,” Blankenship said. “There are times I know it’s going to be clear out of the end zone. Most of the time you’ve got to wait until it hits the apex or starts to come down before you realize whether I hit it really solid.”
As for field-goal kicking, Blankenship has been about as reliable as they come. He’s made 10 of 11 attempts, with the lone miss in South Bend. Blankenship, like much of the team, is in the midst of a career-year.
Blankenship is significantly leaner and stronger than when he arrived on campus, he confirmed. Working with Butler, a UGA special-teams coach, and his father, Ken Blankenship, has gone a long way, he said.
Jumping from a 38 percent touchback rate to 74 percent in one season is a rare feat. And that’s part of what earned the walk-on a scholarship.
Ken Blankenship went public in his criticism of coach Kirby Smart for not rewarding his son with a scholarship. He questioned why Rodrigo would stay in the program.
That was in January. Then came the game against the Fighting Irish on Sept. 9. Blankenship clinched kickoff duties, fending off David Marvin, and notched the game-winner against a potential playoff team. Notre Dame hasn’t lost since that 20-19 defeat.
Smart told Georgia players after the game that Blankenship received a scholarship, to the cheers of his teammates.
“It’s a dream come true since the day I committed here the December of my senior year,” he said afterward. “It’s been a dream to play for the University of Georgia on scholarship. Now it’s coming to fruition.”
From walk-on to scholarship to the record books: Blankenship wasn’t aware he was kicking down the door of history, but he wouldn’t mind being etched in glory, even if it’s for something that’s minor to the casual fan.
“It’d be nice to get it,” he said. “But, at the end of the day, I’m trying to get as many touchbacks as I can, to be the best asset I can be for this team. Any records I can get along the way are just icing on the cake.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.