With the announcement that Rodrigo Blankenship has been named the winner of a National Football Foundation post graduate scholarship, there was cause to ponder the news and to reflect on Georgia’s storied reputation for academic excellence.
Dating back to 1960 when quarterback Fran Tarkenton became the first Bulldog honored as an Academic All-American, there has been noteworthy accomplishment by Georgia athletes, but there are lamentations with respect to the future with regard for academic achievement.
Unfortunately, so many players come to campus to prepare for the National Football League without properly underscoring the importance of the classroom. Time is of the essence with regard to moving on to the NFL. Many persevere and eventually earn a diploma, however. That is because universities across the country never fail the athlete — at least in terms of trying to assist them on their oft-interrupted journey to the ultimate confirmation of a degree.
Some wash out completely, but if a player has the commitment to a degree, then success can be achieved. Beyond the many at Georgia including such luminary performers as Verron Haynes, Thomas Davis and Kevin Butler, there are well known Super Stars at other institutions such as Joe Namath at Alabama and Shaquille O’Neil of LSU that ultimately donned a cap and gown on graduation day.
Truth of the matter, Herschel Walker, for example, has been so successful in business that he does not actually need a degree. However, I have the feeling that he would still enjoy the distinction of having a diploma for his wall. Many who know him have a hunch that he may someday return to campus to fulfill that objective.
Blankenship becomes the 14th Georgia player to be recognized by the National Football Foundation. The list includes Bobby Etter (1966), Tommy Lawhorne (1967), Billy Payne (1968), Tim Callaway (1969), Tommy Lyons (1970), Tom Nash (1971) — an astounding six in a row. Others on the list: Jeff Lewis (1977), Terry Hoage (1983), Matt Stinchcomb (1988), Jon Stinchcomb (2002), David Greene (2004), Drew Butler (2011) and Aaron Murray (2013).
The award carries a stipend of $18,000 to each recipient, certainly worth all the classroom and study hall effort. If you happen to be familiar with all the aforementioned and their after-football-life, you are aware that every single one of them have been successful in their chosen profession. Not a single one of them has struck out. They have kept their noses clean and all are loyal supporters of their alma mater.
After Georgia, Missouri is next in the ranks with 11 selections.
In the category of Academic All-America Football players, Georgia leads all time selections with 28 over Alabama, which has 27. With NCAA Post-Graduate scholars, Georgia has an impressive list which pretty much mirrors the National Football Foundation scholars with Jeff Pyburn, Chris Welton, Kim Stephens and Richard Tardits holding membership in this group. In NCAA Post-Graduate scholar athletes, all sports, Georgia has a whopping lead of 72 honorees over Florida with 40.
Then there are exalted players with the greatest of marquee recognition which includes:
• Terry Hoage, COSIDA (College Sports Information Directors Association) Academic All-America) All America Hall of Fame.
• Billy Payne, 1997 NCAA Teddy Roosevelt Award, the NCAA’s highest honor.
• Fran Tarkenton, 1986 NCAA Silver Anniversary Award.
• Dr. Tommy Lyons, 1996 NCAA Silver Anniversary Award.
• Matt Stinchcomb (1998) and Jon Stinchcomb (2002), brothers who both won the Top Eight award. The Top VIII citation is presented to eight students nationally “for accomplishments in both academics and athletics as well as for character and leadership.”
These box scores should make Georgia alumni proud of the underscoring of academics by Georgia athletic administrators over the years. In the final analysis, there is much to be said for individual effort. It was Chuck Jones, a receiver on the 1980 National Championship team who famously said, “To be the best I can be, it is up to me.”