As the Georgia Bulldogs football team flooded the confetti-filled field at Lucas Oil Stadium to celebrate its first National Championship in 41 years, one player paused to film himself basking in the glory.
“Reporting live from the field with the National Championship Bulldogs, this is one of the greatest moments of my life! Go Dawgs!” he said while holding back tears in a video that he posted online.
Except—this player had not suited up for the Bulldogs in over two years. That’s how much love Rodrigo Blankenship, now a 25-year-old kicker for the Indianapolis Colts, has for his alma mater.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) January 11, 2022
Take one look at Blankenship’s social media pages, and that Georgia affection will be evident. Due to the abundant usage of the hashtag #GoDawgs, one might consider the kicker the most passionate Bulldogs fan alive.
But it wasn’t always that way.
In fact, for much of his life, Blankenship considered himself a “super diehard fan” of the Dawgs’ most hated rival: the Florida Gators.
His father, Ken, played football at the University of Florida from 1967 to 1969, and Rodrigo hoped to one day follow in his footsteps. However, by the time Rodrigo began looking at schools to attend as one of the nation’s top kickers, his father’s alma mater was going through a coaching turnover and thus was preoccupied.
Only late in the recruiting process after he had already committed to Georgia did Florida offer Blankenship a scholarship. But his heart and mind were already set. And his father didn’t mind.
“Obviously, I think he would have liked it if I had gone there,” Blankenship said regarding UF. “But I have an older brother that went to the University of Georgia, so my dad also had already been a father of a Georgia Bulldog. So, it was nothing new to him. And he was just happy for me that I found the school that I love, and that was going to be the right fit for me.”
Turning down a scholarship to play football at your dream school to instead walk on at their rival is not a decision many in his position would have made, but Rodrigo has never been one to follow the standard path laid out for him.
His uniqueness, as both a player and a person, is what has made him a fan favorite wherever he has gone.
Seriously, how many kickers do you know who have their own merchandise?
Blankenship quickly rose to fame during his redshirt freshman year at UGA in 2016 when he kicked a game-winning field goal at Kentucky and subsequently gave a post-game interview while still wearing his helmet with his goggles underneath.
The clutch play combined with the distinct look instantly ignited Blankenship’s following.
Those sturdy black-rimmed “rec specs” that Blankenship wears every game certainly help him stand out from the crowd, but make no mistake: He didn’t ask for this fame. The goggles were not a marketing strategy, but rather a necessity.
Blankenship is near-sighted. He has worn some kind of glasses since he was in seventh grade, but contacts have always been a no-go.
“They were always very irritating for my eyes,” he said. “I tried them first, then again when I got into high school and again before I left to see if I could make the transition when I started college. And every time I tried it, there was always an issue.”
In his early years of football, Rodrigo just rocked his regular glasses underneath his helmet. It was a similar story regarding soccer, for which he simply added Croakies to ensure his glasses stayed put, he said on an appearance on the Savage Pads Podcast.
It was not until he joined the basketball team in his sophomore year of high school that he finally donned the goggles for the first time out of caution for the damage that loose balls could cause.
“Then I just stuck with the specs, and they became associated with me,” Blankenship said. “People really liked it. They liked that I was different and liked that I wasn’t gonna shy away from it. People appreciated that I was my authentic self and didn’t care that I was a football player wearing glasses on the field. It just became part of who I am and part of my identity.”
And along with that, the goggles also became a part of Rodrigo’s success on the field.
“If I don’t have my glasses on, it would be a bit of an issue,” he said. “If I’m looking at a football from the back of my stance, that distance when it gets put down initially is going to be a little bit blurry.”
In this goggle-less scenario, Blankenship would lose almost all sight of the ball once it got about 30 yards away; however, he has honed his craft so well over time that he has confidence he could nail big kicks regardless.
“Now, hopefully, I kicked the ball well enough that I know for sure that it’s going to be straight enough, and it’s going to have enough distance,” he said. “At this point, I feel like I could do it. I have developed my muscle memory for so many years now to where I could still do it. I just would have a hard time making out the ball at the uprights.”
The 2019 Lou Groza Award winner and three-time All-American proved his skill was worthy of that confidence during his four years at Georgia. He made 82.5% of his 97 field goal attempts, and he never missed an extra point.
And Blankenship’s play only improved as the stage got bigger.
He connected on a career-long 55-yard field goal at the end of the first half in the 2017 College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against Oklahoma, sparking a 24-0 run in the Bulldogs’ huge comeback win.
The longest field goal in Rose Bowl history:
55 yards by Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, which sparked the Bulldogs’ huge comeback win in the 2017-18 CFP semifinal. pic.twitter.com/0rMN5IfC5R
— Mike Kennedy (@MikeKennedyNFL) February 25, 2022
The following week, he nailed a 51-yarder to give Georgia a temporary lead in overtime against Alabama in the National Championship before the Bulldogs ultimately fell.
“It gives me confidence from a mental standpoint to know that I’ve kicked a 50-yard field goal in overtime of one of the most televised college football games of the year,” he said. “I’ve been in the most intense of situations. I just think back to things like that to know that you’ve already been here, and you’ve already done anything and everything that could be asked of you. You just have to go out and do what you always do.”
But while Blankenship has the utmost confidence in his game on the field, sometimes things will be outside of his control.
After going undrafted in the 2020 NFL Draft, Blankenship signed with the Colts. He had a heated battle with the incumbent Chase McLaughlin for the team’s kicker job in the truncated training camp. But as the final decision came, Blankenship turned to his other passion to relax his mind.
“There was nothing else I could do to help my case,” he said. “I had already kicked all the kicks I could possibly kick, so I needed something to take my mind off of everything. So I just picked up a Lego Ferrari set to pass the time.”
As famous as Blankenship is in the sports world, he has a similarly heavy presence in the “nerd” world thanks to his eclectic collections.
His secondary Instagram account, “@rodthecollector3” has over 37 thousand followers. It showcases his various Lego and Funko Pop figures, a good majority of which are from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
“When I was a kid, there was a Star Wars movie marathon was on TV,” he said. “They showed all the movies, one through six in order, and I watched them all with my dad. And I kind of instantly fell in love with Star Wars at that point.”
It took only a few days for Blankenship to receive his first merchandise from the franchise. At the store, he spotted Lego sets featuring Clone Troopers from “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” He convinced his parents to buy one for him and immediately built it upon coming home.
His passion for collecting grew when he dove further into the Star Wars universe from animated series to video games. You are just as likely to find a Luke Skywalker figure in his collection as you are to find one of Darth Revan, Blankenship’s favorite character, who first appeared in the 2003 RPG “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.”
Over the years, the collection has expanded from Star Wars to Marvel to Transformers to sneakers, but his initial love for Clone Troopers has remained at the forefront, as he has even had custom versions fashioned after himself commissioned.
Those around him never seemed to mind his hobbies.
“My parents always just wanted me to be happy,” he said. “If they had the money to be able to afford it, they would get this stuff for me. So, they’ve always been supportive of all of my collections.”
Now that Rodrigo is a professional athlete with more spending money, however, he is cognizant of the pitfalls that can occur. Therefore, he paid close attention during the financial education workshops the Colts put all their first-year players through in the offseason.
He still keeps in touch with Hillary Seiler, the financial educator brought in by the Colts, who helps him and his fiancée Logan keep their spending in order.
“We have budgets for in-season when we’re receiving checks and the offseason when we’re not receiving checks,” he said. “We work with her to build in some discretionary money that can be allotted for spending money each month. And that’s what I use to buy the fun stuff.”
There is no doubt that Blankenship continues collecting figures because he finds it fun, but it also makes sense given his role as a kicker.
The attention-to-detail needed to build a perfect Lego set is not too dissimilar from the attention-to-detail needed to kick a perfect field goal.
Some may find it strange to see a professional athlete nearly as invested in his hobbies off the field as he is in his craft, but the two activities work hand-in-hand to complement one another.
Rodrigo Blankenship has never apologized for being his authentic self at all times, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to stop any time soon. Thus, the goggled kicker will continue to be a fan favorite no matter where he goes.