College Chap @geosomerville recently had the opportunity to interview Georgia Bulldogs Kicker, Rodrigo Blankenship.
Rodrigo will commence his senior year at the University of Georgia. He is a native of Georgia and is studying for his Masters in Digital and Broadcast Journalism.
In the 2018 season Rodrigo scored 122 points, with individual seasons scoring (2017 and 2018) ranking him 3rd and 4th in the all time UGA record book. In 2018 Rod the Kicker had an 86% field goal record and a 100% PAT record, making him one of the most productive kickers in the NCAA.
“Hot Rod” is one of, if not the most recognisable players in the SEC.
Hi Rodrigo, thanks for taking the time out to speak to us today, welcome and how are you?
I’m great, thank you so much for having me today.
I’m sure you get asked this a lot but the helmet wearing on campus and during media interviews is a lot of fun, how did this come about and dare I ask are you wearing it today?
Ah, so the thing about the helmet – when I was kicking in 2016 we went to play at the the University of Kentucky in Lexington and in that game I kicked four field goals and the last one I kicked the game winner as time expired. So as I made the kick my teammates swamped me and we were all celebrating and going crazy and right after the celebration broke up they brought me over to do a post game interview for ESPN. I didn’t really have time to take my helmet off and they walked me right up to the reporters and said “hey we’re about to go live” so I didn’t have time to think and forgot to take off the helmet. So that was the first interview that I had ever done on National TV and I had my helmet and sports glasses on and it just became an iconic moment I guess you can say. And so after that game, the next couple of interviews with the media I did with my helmet and glasses on even though they were just after practice and stuff when I had taken a shower and changed, but I still wanted to wear the helmet and glasses as I wanted it to be something that everyone could enjoy and get a good laugh out of. So that’s how the helmet thing started.
Photo credit : Greg Poole, Bulldawg Illustrated
I wanted to talk about life at Athens. You’re a Georgia native and in the UK we are pretty familiar with the College game but there is still an all round head shaking at playing college ball in front of 100,000 fans in the SEC. What’s it like playing in front of these crowds and are you able to use it as a motivation or are you able just to block it out?
I think I’m in a really incredible position to play for UGA and have the opportunity to play against other teams in the SEC. I’m a firm believer that we have the best conference in college football – I know that some other conferences will say they are the best and that’s ok everyone can have their own opinion on that. I think it’s an incredible opportunity to play against these incredible opponents we have – Alabama, Auburn, Florida, South Carolina, LSU – you know everywhere you go they have between 70,000-100,000 fans at their stadium screaming their heads off either for you or against you depending on whether we are at home or on the road. And its such a great opportunity to get to play in front of so many people. When you first walk in to the stadium you get a feel for how big the stadium is and for how many people are going to be in the stadium. But once the game starts it doesn’t really affect me too much with the fans. I really like to think I do a good job of kind of blocking out the fans and the noise and just focusing on everything that I can do to be sharp and to go out and put on a good performance for my team.
Anyone who looks at your kicking stats can see that they are hugely consistent and your extra point percentage of 100% suggests not only a lot of skill but also a huge amount of preparation and hard work. What’s a typical practice day like for you during the season?
On a typical practice day we’ll go to class for the first half of the day until one o’clock or so. We’ll have meetings starting around 2 or 2.30 and they will last for an hour/ hour and a half. After that we practice pretty much two hours every day Monday thru Thursday and on Friday’s we travel for our games or we got to a hotel on Campus where we stay for our home games.
For regular practice we have a warm up that we do with the whole team. After all team warm ups the kickers, punters and long snappers have our own field where we do our own work. We do all of our drills and work on our technique and then when there is about five minutes before a special teams period that has the whole team involved we run back over to the other field where the team is and we wait our turn.
When the whistle or horn blows to start the special teams period we’ve been doing our drills so we’re good and loose and ready to go. We go out and do our job for the team when our number gets called during that period for practice. And then when that period of practice is over we come back to our field and we do some more drills and work on our technique to try to get better each and every day.
You have to be careful about being smart about the reps that you take, make sure that you can stay fresh but also make sure that you get in quality work and quality practice with your technique so that when its go time for you with the team you are ready to go out and perform.
Photo credit : The Tifton Gazzette
You touched on at the start about being privileged to play at UGA. In the UK we have no comparable with the standard of being a student athlete. How did you go about balancing life as a student, an athlete and all the other stuff that goes on in and around campus including taking the time out to speak to people like me? How easy a balance is it to achieve?
I started playing soccer when I was much younger, way before I started playing football. So I have been playing some sport or another while going to school basically my whole life and I think that that has given me a lot of experience in just trying to manage my time. Knowing that you always have a soccer or football practice in the afternoon means that you have to use any free time that you get during the day to try to get some of your work done and even more so now at the college level because I am taking masters classes now.
The classes are very challenging and very difficult here at the University of Georgia. So trying to use any free time I get during the day between the time that classes are over and before meetings start to use that little slither of time to try to get a head start on homework. I’ll take any chance I get. But on the most part you just have to suck it up and just be prepared to knock out all of your work when you get done with practice at the end of the day. So you just spend consistently the last 2-3 hours at the end of one of your days to work on your homework to see if you can get to bed in time to get 8 hours of sleep. So that you can be at your best and your body is good to go for the next day. It doesn’t always happen but its kind of what you sign up for when you want to be a college athlete. So I think I am really fortunate to be able to develop some good time management skills and some good habits over the years and that’s been the biggest thing to allow me to have a good balance and try to keep everything in line.
You talked about your Masters and you are studying Digital and Broadcast Journalism, but we can already start to see chat in the press about what might happen post this season. Are you doing anything special in terms of a career in the NFL or is it just business as usual until the end of the season? Do you want a career in the NFL?
Well, I certainly would. I would hope that I could continue to perform well for my team for one more season. And hopefully that I can play well enough that some NFL teams will show some interest in me. It’s been a dream of mine for a very long time to play in the NFL. But I want to be prepared for anything after the season. For right now its business as usual. It’s going to work outs and just trying to take care of my body, doing things to keep it healthy. Do work outs with the team, do our team runs, conditioning work and all that good stuff in the summer right now. I’m just trying to focus on taking everything a day at a time and then when the season comes, take it one week at a time. Make sure that you are ready to go every Saturday and then when the season is over, that’s the time that I will really be looking at taking that next step. Hopefully it can be in the NFL but if not I know that I have earned a really good education from this University that will set me up for a really good career that will hopefully be in sports broadcasting or sports journalism.
Bulldog fans will be keen that you go out with a bang this season. But you have already played in a lot of huge games. The Rose Bowl game sticks out for a lot of people, but do you have a favourite game that you have played in so far?
I think that either the Rose Bowl game or the National Championship game that we played in right after that in that same season, I think those are definitely my two favourite games. They were both just incredible experiences leading up to the games and of course the games themselves. We fell a little short in the National Championship but it was still an incredible game, both were really incredible games to be a part of and those are two games that I will remember for as long as I can. They were very special experiences and just let us know as a team we have the ability to go to that level and reach that height every single season. I’m really looking forward to us having another good season this year and hopefully going back to the play off’s. Hopefully we can have some more incredible games like that.
Photo credit : Chattanooga Free Times Press
My last question for you is about your Head Coach. I think its fair to say that Kirby Smart has come in and transformed this programme. What has he done, the one thing that has turned UGA into a contender for National Champion?
I think I would say that he brought a new mindset and new mentality to the programme. He is a very firm believer in the habits that you have in practice and how they translate in to a game. So he has instilled that in to all of our players from the second he set foot on Campus he has been trying to get us to commit to that and just trust in the process and trust that if you develop the right habits in practice each and every day that they are going to translate into the game and you’re going to be able to have success. So I really think that is a really big thing that he has brought with him and brought to our program which has really kind of kick started us in a really good direction.
Well I really hope that you have a great last season at Georgia. I know that your last year can be emotional and I hope that things go well and that you go on to the career in the NFL that you’re looking for. So thank you for taking the time out, we really appreciate it and we wish you well for the new season.
Thank you guys so much.
You can listen to the full interview on @CollegeChapsPodcast available on Apple Podcasts as well as other podcast providers.
With thanks to Rodrigo for making the time available and to the UGA Communications team for helping arrange this interview.
You can find out more about Rodrigo via twitter and Instagram @RodThe Kicker3 and via the Georgia Bulldogs and Rodrigo’s own website www.rodrigoblankenship.com and www.georgiadogs.com
Photo credit : Greg Poole, Bulldawg Illustrated; The Sporting News; Tifton Gazzette; Chattanooga Times Free Press