School: University of Georgia
Year: Graduate Student
Major: Broadcast Journalism (undergraduate), Emerging Media (graduate)
Rodrigo Blankenship, the 2020 Arthur Ashe Jr. Male Sports Scholar of the Year, pays careful attention to details. University of Georgia (UGA) Director of Student Services Heather Jordan holds monthly meetings with the participants in the Student-Athlete Leadership Academy (LEAD), noting that in his final year, Blankenship was at the forefront.
“We called him the captain of LEAD,” says Jordan. “He is the one who takes meticulous notes and posts them for the group. Everyone knows that he’s the one you can count on to give you the information, to be present, to be asking really good questions.”
Blankenship, a place kicker, joined Georgia’s football team as a preferred walk-on and finished having made history. After redshirting his freshman year, he started to get some opportunities the following season. When special teams coordinator Scott Fountain arrived prior to Blankenship’s redshirt sophomore season, he needed to figure out who was the best place kicker on the team. To help evaluate, Fountain asked Blankenship and several others to come in on their own, watch tape and take notes on what they saw.
“We had some who would take notes, some would take no notes and then Rod would take every little detail notes,” says Fountain. Blankenship, who won the starter’s job and a scholarship, made sure Fountain brought the notes to the 2018 Rose Bowl, where he made a 55-yard field goal — a Rose Bowl record. A week later in the CFP Championship Game, Blankenship was perfect on three field goal tries, including a 51-yarder in overtime.
“You’ve got a guy that went from … trying to win the starting job … to becoming a really good leader for our football team,” says Fountain.
A Georgia native, Blankenship dreamed of playing for the Georgia Bulldogs and getting a great education. When he arrived on campus, he was trying to figure out what he could do to help the team improve regardless of whether he played.
“I kept on working and pushing, and eventually when I started to play that vision came into picture,” says Blankenship. “If you have something in mind that you want to accomplish, if you put your mind to it and you have a great support system around you that wants to see you succeed, then you can accomplish pretty much anything. It was incredible for me to finally earn a scholarship. I got to announce it to the team. That was one of the happiest moments of my life.”
He admits keeping his commitment to excelling academically was difficult because the demands of college football are year-round. “Football was time-consuming, so you need to have the right help to make it happen,” says Blankenship. “The University of Georgia has set up some amazing academic resources for athletes.”
He came into college with several AP course credits, which helped him complete his bachelor’s degree by December 2018. It also took discipline and determination. After practice, watching film, meeting with coaches and seeing the athletic trainers, sometimes he didn’t get to his studies until late evening.
“You might have to bite the bullet and stay up later than you want to, but … if you want to be great on and off the field, then you do whatever it takes,” says Blankenship.
Blankenship chose broadcast journalism as his undergraduate major because he hopes to become a sports broadcaster. For his final year of playing eligibility, he pursued a master’s degree in emerging media.
Competitive football brings out the best in people, says Blankenship, who was named 1st-Team All-American by USA Today, the American Football Coaches Association, Sports Illustrated and Bleacher Report. Jordan says Blankenship always brought his best, rarely turning down a request for community service. He was part of the All State Good Works Team and named to the SEC community service team.
“He’s truly grateful for every opportunity he has,” says Jordan. “Rodrigo did an amazing job encompassing the well-rounded student-athlete.”
Engaging with the communities that do so much for UGA is a privilege, he notes. “Being part of this incredible platform has allowed me to give back to lots of people,” says Blankenship, who has taken part in Camp Sunshine, a summer camp for children with physical and mental disabilities; a project with the Red Cross for which they provide and install smoke detectors in an area where people can’t afford them; and a youth camp at Sprayberry High School, his alma mater.
“I remember being in their shoes and looking up to college athletes,” says Blankenship. “That was a great opportunity for me to give back to my community.”