Soon enough, UGA’s ‘Rec Specs’ can cash in on recognition

The Georgia place kicker Rodrigo Blankenship discusses recent NCAA ruling that would allow players to profit of their name and likeliness (Video by Chip Towers/AJC)

If there is one college football player in America who could benefit from the new NCAA's name, image and likeness rule, it's Rodrigo Blankenship.

Too bad the Georgia Bulldogs’ wildly popular place kicker won’t be around to do so.

The fifth-year senior from Marietta is about to head out UGA’s door into the real world. In the meantime, he has gone from unknown walk-on to one of the most decorated place kickers Georgia history.

More than that, he’s just plain popular. People love him. Blankenship’s ovation during pregame introductions at Sanford Stadium is greater even than star quarterback Jake Fromm.

Nobody else on Georgia’s roster had children across the state dressing up as “Hot Rod” for Halloween.

“I think he might have missed his window,” quipped Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart. “I don’t know enough about ‘name, image and likeness’ to know where it’s going to go, but he would have been a guy that would have done well with that, for sure.”

Late last month, the NCAA's Board of Governors, meeting in Atlanta, voted unanimously to permit college athletes "the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness."

In a nutshell, that means college athletes will likely be able to financially benefit from the use of their name, whether it be in a EA Sports video game, jersey sales or selling their autograph for cash at the local bookstore.

It’s a slippery slope, for sure, and a lot of details will have to be worked out before it’s implemented, which is expected to be sometime in 2021, at the earliest. The scholarly Blankenship has watched with great intrigue.

“It’s been an interesting development just to see how everything has kind of unfolded,” Blankenship said in an interview Tuesday night after the Bulldogs’ practice. “Unfortunately, I won’t be around, but hopefully some guys coming in the next few years will get to see some benefit from it.”

Soon enough, Blankenship will be able to benefit on his own from his name, image and likeness. He’ll be a full-fledged professional in a couple of months and, regardless of whether or not he is an NFL draft choice, there should be ample opportunity for Blankenship to cash in on his popularity.

There certainly is a lot there to work with. There are his namesakes, such as “Hot Rod,” “Mr. Rec Specs,” “Respect the Specs.” There are the sports goggles themselves, and the pink kicking cleats. There certainly will be kicking camps. And, of course, appearances, pictures and autographs will surely bring a tidy sum.

One can be sure Blankenship has contemplated the possibilities.

“I definitely have a couple of things in mind,” Blankenship said with a sly grin. “I might be looking for a trademark when my eligibility is over. I’ve got to keep them under wraps for now.”

In the meantime, Blankenship remains an amateur athlete bound by the rules and policies of the NCAA.

Never-minding the legalistic ramifications of that, Smart is thankful Blankenship remains a member of his team. It recently struck the Bulldogs’ fourth-year coach that Blankenship is the only kicker he’s ever had.

“I can’t compare him (to anybody) because I’ve been fortunate to have not had a lot of kickers,” Smart said. “Rod’s just kind of been our kicker.”

An exceptional one, in fact. With every swing of his right leg, it seems, Blankenship is bringing down another record or reaching another milestone. The 2019 CBS Sports/Athlon Midseason All-American currently is second in the SEC in scoring this year (9.5 ppg) and has connected on 15 of 17 field goal attempts and all 31 of his PATs. A four-time 2019 SEC Special Teams Player of the Week has drilled three 50-yard field goals during his team’s 7-1 start and is the FBS active leader by 12 with a total of 68 made field goals.

Blankenship, a two-time Lou Groza Award semifinalist, has connected on a school record 185 consecutive PATs, which ranks second in SEC history and UGA leads the nation with 276 PATs in a row dating back to 2014.

“He has a great mental disposition and he’s got a preparation mode that he goes through,” Smart observed. “He handles the mental conditioning part and he puts himself in a good place. I think he’s bounced back really well.”

Blankenship is also a good student and stays active in community service. Accordingly, the senior is collecting award after award, certificate after certificate and accolade after accolade.

Just this week, Blankenship was named one of nine semifinalists nationwide for the 2019 Wuerffel Trophy. The Wuerffel, named after Florida’s 1996 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Danny Wuerffel, is described as college football’s premier award for community service. Finalists for the award will be announced on Nov. 18. On Tuesday, he was also became a nominee for the Burlsworth Trophy, which honors players who started their career as walk-ons.

Earlier this season, Blankenship was named a recipient of the NFF Scholar-Athlete Award, a finalist for the Campbell Trophy for his combined academic success, football performance and exemplary leadership. Last year, he was included on Allstate American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works Team as well as named SEC Community Service Team member.

That’s all pretty heady stuff for a player who for a brief moment considered leaving UGA because, two seasons in, he hadn’t been put on scholarship.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for some of these awards. It’s really just an honor and a blessing to be recognized for some of the stuff I’ve done here but, at the same time, I always want to be grateful for the opportunity that I’ve been given just being here at the University of Georgia. It has presented me with an amazing platform to go out and do so many things and reach out to so many communities. I’m eternally grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

There’s a good chance there will be many more to come.

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