Georgia walk-on kicker Jack Podlesny making a name for himself

Georgia kicker Jack Podlesny (96) during the Bulldogs' game with Tennessee in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020.. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker)

Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker

Credit: Andrew Davis Tucker

Georgia kicker Jack Podlesny (96) during the Bulldogs' game with Tennessee in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020.. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker)

ATHENS – Pod-LEZ-nee.

That’s the pronunciation of the last name of Georgia’s kicker, Jack Podlesny. Get used to saying it because it appears he may be the Bulldogs’ kicker for a while.

Podlesny certainly did nothing to hurt his status Saturday night as the No. 3 Bulldogs took on Tennessee in an SEC East showdown at Sanford Stadium. Podlesny kicked three field goals, two of which were career bests for him, in the 44-21 victory.

Those nine points all proved critical as Georgia rallied to turn a tight first-half contest into a second-half blowout. But “Pod,” as his teammates call him, was still beaming over the 51-yarder that put the Bulldogs ahead for good, 23-21, at the 10:11 mark of the third quarter.

The 51-yard kick was Georgia’s longest field goal since Rodrigo Blankenship made a 53-yarder against Vanderbilt in 2018.

“It was unbelievable,” Podlesny said. “Every week has come with new challenges. Stepping on the field, we’re supposed to look at every kick just the same no matter the distance. But knowing that one was 51 and going to be a career long, it was a really good feeling to put it right through the uprights with a solid kick.”

Podlesny was the surprise victor of an intense preseason competition to succeed Blankenship – another notable walk-on -- as Georgia’s new kicker. If Las Vegas had handicapped the battle, it probably would have favored Jared Zirkel, a highly-decorated freshman signee from Texas.

But Podlesney beat him out, fair and square, in preseason camp. And coach Kirby Smart left nothing to chance.

“I knew what he could do because we had the longest field-goal competition I’ve ever seen in my life,” Smart said after the game. “So I knew what he could do. He won that competition. He was tried and tested and battle-tested long before he ever hit that field tonight. He’s got a strong leg.”

Here’s the mini-bio on Podlesny: He’s a 6-foot-1, 180-pound redshirt sophomore from St. Simons Island, where he played for Glynn Academy. He was named first-team all-region his senior year, when he made nine of 10 field goals and 49 of 51 PATs. Georgia accepted him as an invited walk-on mainly because he had a big leg for kickoffs, which resulted in 55 of 61 touchbacks as a high school senior, but also because he was an honor-roll student and high academic achiever. His only other field goal before this season was a 38-yarder for Georgia’s Black Team in the 2019 G-Day Game.

Podlesny is also very close with Blankenship, who actually had an indirect hand in his buddy’s success on Saturday. Podlesny reached out to him when he suddenly encountered a problem with placement kicks from the right hash. He missed 43-yarder from that location against Auburn and was struggling with them in practice as well the early part of the week.

“I wanted to know what I could do to fix it, so I sent him a text,” Podlesny said of Blankenship, who is currently tied for the NFL lead in scoring as a rookie for the Indianapolis Colts. “He responded immediately, helped me and obviously it worked out.”

It sure did. Podlesny kicked a then-career-long 47-yard field goal to give the Bulldogs a 17-14 lead late in the first half. He added a 34-yarder from inside a dreaded right hash three minutes into the third quarter, then nailed the 51-yarder right down the middle with plenty to spare less than two minutes later. That put the Bulldogs ahead 23-21.

He was also was good on all his PATs. So, with another 14 points added to his ledger, Podlesny will head to next Saturday’s showdown against No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa as Georgia’s leading scorer with 32 points

He’s making “Hot Rod” and a lot of other people proud.

“Rodrigo loves the term ‘walk-on mentality,’ ” Podlesny said. “It’s just that. It’s realizing, I might be a nobody, but I’ve got to come to compete every day.”

As for the competition with Zirkel, Podlesny said he knows that’s not over. That’s why he worked so hard on his own during the pandemic quarantine this summer and showed up for camp in peak form.

“I came in at the end of July and Zirkel’s here and we were just competing,” Podlesny said. “It was a great atmosphere. I mean, we love each other, we want the best for each other and the team. I just won the job.”