Rodrigo Blankenship's life changed after facing Notre Dame
In the previous matchup between Georgia and Notre Dame, the Bulldogs relied on sophomore kicker Rodrigo Blankenship to propel the team to victory in what was an unforgettable pairing of two tradition-rich programs.
The week leading up to that contest was similar to this one, not quite at the magnitude of a top-10 matchup, but still carrying national title implications. Also, there was the fact it was a rematch of the historic 1980 National Championship. For fans, the excitement was overwhelming, but for the players, it was week two.
“I think that the emotions after the game were kind of off the charts but leading up to the game, I think not just myself, but the entire team did a really good job of keeping our emotions in check and just being composed throughout the entire week,” said Blankenship.
Following Georgia’s victory that night, Blankenship delivered his famous one-liner, “I’m on scholarship,” to his teammates who were celebrating in the visitor's locker room in South Bend. He was swarmed by his teammates as they realized the former walk-on was now on a full athletic scholarship.
Blankenship can look back on that night as one in which he hit a game-winning field goal, received a scholarship, and forever embedded himself into the hearts of Georgia fans. Since that moment, Blankenship has worked tirelessly to prove that he was worth it.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s just me or anyone on this team, when you step out on the field, you have to prove that you belong there,” Blankenship said. “The University of Georgia is one of the best programs in the country and we expect to have a high level of talent at every single position across the board so no matter who you are, when you step out on the field you should expect to go out and perform at a high level and prove you deserve to be here.”
Head coach Kirby Smart’s words regarding the senior from Marietta show he has no regrets about awarding a scholarship to the fan-favorite kicker.
“He’s a valuable weapon for us, a great kid and an unbelievable ambassador for the University of Georgia,” said Smart.
The Georgia fanbase has taken to Blankenship like few others in the past three years. The kicker receives the largest applause of any player during pregame introductions, and it’s not even close. Former Georgia punter Cameron Nizialek took to Twitter to announce the displeasure of having his name called behind Blankenship’s in recent years.
“The worst part about UGA was getting introduced after @RodTheKicker3... absolute crickets in comparison,” Nizialek joked.
When asked about the deafening applause as well as general support from Bulldog fans, Blankenship said that while he can’t interact with them during the game, he loves them nonetheless.
“I love our fans. I love dawg nation to the bottom of my heart,” said Blankenship. “I know that a lot of them are trying to get my attention on the sidelines when I’m warming up in the net and they’re right over there. And as much as I want to turn around and take pictures with them, I’ve got to focus on the game and just focus on my craft and doing whatever I can to help the team. But I love our fans so much and any chance I get to say thanks, I’ll do it.”
The ovation for Blankenship will measure a few decibels higher than normal with the increased crowd and overall atmosphere this week’s game will carry, but he’ll look to do what he always does.
“I just want to try and treat every single kick the exact same way regardless of how far it is, how short it is, left hash, right hash. Whether you’re playing Notre Dame or Murray State. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you want to try and give every kick an equal amount of attention and focus,” Blankenship said.
The traditional importance permeating Saturday’s matchup has not been lost on Blankenship, who is looking forward to another thrilling installment.
“Notre Dame has so much history with their program,” said Blankenship. “Georgia and Notre Dame don’t really have a whole lot of history with each other. They had the national championship game, I believe, which was 1980, I think was the only other time before these past two times they had ever played each other. So I really think that it has been really unique that we’ve had the opportunity to play a team that has so much history and so much tradition and we get a chance to kind of create some tradition of our own with this particular matchup.”