After Georgia had secured a 20-19 victory over Notre Dame and returned to its locker room following a raucous celebration on the field, head coach Kirby Smart spoke to his team. At the end of the speech, he turned to kicker Rodrigo Blankenship.
"I got one other thing to add that I want everybody to know about,” Smart said. “Rod, would you like to tell the team what I told you on Friday?”
"I'm on scholarship," Blankenship said.
The Bulldogs erupted into cheers. Blankenship was mobbed by his teammates. Chants of “yeet” rang through the room. The celebration continued, with Blankenship in the middle of it.
“That was one of the greatest moments of my life,” Blankenship said.
Blankenship has been Georgia’s starting place-kicker since week four of last season. He converted 14-of-18 field goals in 2016. He connected on a game-winner to beat Kentucky. But instead of giving Blankenship a scholarship during the offseason, Georgia brought in kicker David Marvin on scholarship. Not until Chauncey Manac decided to transfer did Georgia use a scholarship on Blankenship.
“We didn't want the kid thinking he kicking was for a scholarship,” Smart said. “We wanted him to be able to relax. Rodrigo's earned that. We're very thankful we could do it.”
As soon as Blankenship found out about his scholarship he texted the person who came to his mind first: his girlfriend, Logan Harrell.
“Babe, I got it," Blankenship messaged.
Blankenship later called his parents. A few “blurry” days later, Blankenship was instrumental in Georgia’s win over the Fighting Irish. However, he kicked poorly for the first three quarters of the game. In the third quarter, he missed a 44-yard field goal. None of his first four kickoffs were touchbacks.
Then, with 3:34 remaining in the game and Georgia trailing, 19-17, Blankenship converted a 30-yard field goal. Georgia took the lead. Blankenship’s ensuing kickoff sailed through the back of the end zone.
“I let the moment get bigger than it was. My mind wasn't in it,” Blankenship said. “After I made that field goal, that's when I got grounded.”
In a back corridor of Notre Dame Stadium following the game, after his teammates had celebrated him, Blankenship leaned against a wall. His eyes welled up as he spoke. It has been a couple of days since Blankenship was told he earned a scholarship, but he still seemed to be in disbelief.
Ever since Blankenship committed to Georgia in December of his senior year of high school, his “dream,” he said, has been to play on scholarship. Now, he is watching that goal come to fruition.
“Timing is everything, and I think everything happens for a reason if the Lord wills it to be that way,” Blankenship said. “He needed me to wait a little bit longer. Now I've got to prove every Saturday I deserve it.”