NEW YORK – The National Football Foundation had its beginnings three-quarters of a century in the past when a football coach, a sportswriter and a five-star general founded the organization, which has always put on a showcase banquet in Manhattan.

Earl “Red” Blaik, the coach at Army, legendary sports columnist Grantland Rice and Gen. Douglas McArthur formed the hierarchy that founded the NFF to develop and promote amateur football.

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The mission of the organization, in part, is “to cultivate leadership, sportsmanship, enthusiasm for competition, and the drive for academic excellence among America’s youth.”

The Foundation honors the outstanding coaches and players in the game with as much of an underscoring of academic excellence as for touchdowns scored or stopped.

Over the years, University of Georgia partisans who support this annual showcasing of headliners, past and present, has seen the Red and Black banner waving proudly when this august body convenes the first week in December as New York basks in the festive and sprightly atmosphere of the Christmas season. No city dresses up for Christmas like New York.

For years, the awards dinner was held at the Waldorf Astoria on Park Avenue in the heart of Manhattan. You could stand by the legendary clock across from the front desk and see the biggest names in college football walk by.

Darrell Royal of Texas, for example. John McKay of Southern California, Joe Paterno of Penn State, Eddie Robinson of Grambling, Tom Osborne of Nebraska and on occasion, Bear Bryant of Alabama. Georgia has always been well represented here with Vince Dooley, elected in 1994, becoming an enthusiastic supporter, both on a national and local level. Bill Hartman, elected to the Hall in 1984, supported the NFF financially by buying a table every year. Then the Georgia Student Educational Fund, which Hartman headed up, underwrote the cost of operations for the UGA chapter of the NFF, which has been the No. 1 chapter in the country the last dozen years.

With 18 players and coaches being inducted to date, Georgia’s football success has been rounded documented in the last four decades. You would expect the beat to go on with Davey Pollack, a three-time All-America player, whose name is on the ballot, to be elected soon, perhaps in the next class. When Champ Bailey, one of the most versatile players in Bulldog history, sees his name added to the ballot, he should be elected post haste. He has already been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Garrison Hearst is certainly worthy of Hall of Fame citation and so is Jon Stinchcomb, the brother of Matt Stinchcomb, who was inducted in 2018.

Mark Richt, one of UGA’s most popular coaches, will likely be elected as soon as he is eligible. With Kirby Smart’s impressive start as a coach, you know he has to be honored in the future.

The Bulldog in the spotlight this year is Georgia placekicker Rodrigo Blakenship. The NCAA and all who have anything to do with college football, including the NFF, are eager to promote the successes of student-athletes. Too often, in many cases there are athletes today who have no interest in being a student.

Blankenship is obviously different. That he would come back for a senior year on campus makes those who have a deep and abiding interest in the game button popping proud. The long-time NFF President, Archie Manning, saw both of his sons, Peyton (Tennessee) and Eli (Ole Miss) play four years of college football, giving a degree the highest priority. That each won two Super Bowl rings sends a powerful message to athletes — be patient, enjoy the campus experience.

Rodrigo could be somewhere cashing big checks, but, like the Mannings and a few others, he wanted to remain on campus, even after he received his undergraduate degree from the Grady College of Journalism. Chances are that he will received a graduate degree at some point.

One of the most successful place kickers in UGA history (and, there have been many), Rodrigo is a finalist for the Campbell Trophy; a finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy (given to a former walk-on who is now a significant contributor) and a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award and the Wuerffel Trophy.

Blankenship, a native of Marietta, is a former walk-on who is a 2019 CBS Sports/Athlon Midseason All-American. He has connected on 198 PAT kicks and made 25 or 31 field goal attempts. Thanks in large part to his contribution, Georgia leads the nation with 280 PATs in a row dating back to 2014.

He was graduated with cum laude honors and is a member of the AFCA (American Football Coaches Assn.) Good Works team. An all-around student who, as a kid, aspired to kick in the NFL, Rodrigo will soon have that opportunity. He will leave behind an enviable legacy that will not be easily equaled. 

The 2018 Allstate American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works Team member and 2018 SEC Community Service Team member has been just as exceptional away from the field as he has been on the field.

Blankenship is a member of the UGA Athletic Association's Leadership Academy (L.E.A.D.) and has served on the SEC Football Leadership Council the past two years. He has given his time to the following activities and many more: spokesperson for "No More," which is a public service announcement against domestic violence and sexual assault; visitation at Camp Sunshine, which is a camp that provides support programs for children with cancer and their families; volunteer for the "Empty Bowl" luncheon, which is a luncheon sponsored by the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia where hand-painted ceramic bowls done by the football players were part of a silent auction to raise funds for needy families; and volunteer for the Home Runs for Hometown Rivals, which is a softball game at UGA's Foley Field for Special Olympians.

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