Colts rookie Rodrigo Blankenship still gets a kick out of Lego sets

INDIANAPOLIS -- The drive was supposed to proceed directly to the Indianapolis airport to catch the team plane. But Indianapolis Colts rookie kicker Rodrigo Blankenship wanted to make a stop first.

It wasn’t to grab a salad or some kind of organic smoothie to bring aboard the quick flight to Nashville, where the Colts were to play the Tennessee Titans.

Blankenship stopped at a local Target. To buy some Legos.

“I don’t know about too many other football players who’d just come out and willingly say this,” Blankenship said. “Now, maybe some do, but they just don’t wanna talk about it.”

In a time when most 23-year-old professional athletes are using their spending money to buy the latest video game, a big-screen television or the newest sneakers, Blankenship enjoys challenging himself to build Lego sets.

That’s Blankenship’s way of diffusing any pressure of replacing arguably the greatest kicker in NFL history, Adam Vinatieri, and to pass the time while being restricted on what he can do around the Indianapolis area because of COVID-19.

“You think as a kid it would be so cool to go into that thing -- whether it's a spaceship or a type of a car -- or to be able to see that thing, even if it’s not real,” Blankenship said about his Lego creations. “That sticks with you. When you’re older, you still have that spark of your inner child that has an affinity for those things, so you’re like, ‘Oh man, I could have that.’

"One of the other things is, they are a challenge. There are some sets that are a little easier to put together, but the bigger sets that have 1,000 or 2,000 pieces are a fun challenge to put together. They have interesting techniques to try and re-create those things.”

That’s Blankenship's quirky side -- a life that also includes wearing his trademark Rec Specs goggles during games because contacts irritate his eyes. It includes attending the 70th birthday party for legendary pro wrestler Ric Flair, his friend and a University of Georgia fan. That's the same Ric Flair who is a "styling and profiling, limousine-riding, jet-flying, kiss-stealing, wheeling 'n' dealing son of a gun."

So Blankenship likes parties, but there's still that inner child in him. When he was finding out whether he'd won the job over Chase McLaughlin in camp, he wasn't pacing at his place worrying. He was building another Lego set.

With Blankenship, think part Pat McAfee and part toy geek.

“My initial reaction was that he’s definitely into some different things,” Colts special-teams coach Bubba Ventrone said. “But regardless what he’s into, as long as he makes his kicks, I don’t care how many Legos he builds.”

Blankenship is 24-of-27 on field goals and 30-of-32 on extra points this season. He made four field goals against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 2, becoming the first Colts rookie to make four in a game since Mike Vanderjagt in December 1998. Blankenship made his first game-winning kick when he nailed a 39-yard field goal in overtime against Green Bay, bouncing back after missing a 50-yard attempt earlier in the game.

The inside of Ken and Izabel Blankenship’s house in Marietta, Georgia, is something like a toy museum because of Rodrigo, the youngest of their four children.

More than a hundred Transformers. “Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of Hot Wheels, according to Ken Blankenship. Thousands of Pokemon cards. More than 1,500 World War II tanks and metal soldiers.

Blankenship collected those things over the years, asking his parents if he could go to the toy aisle each time they went to the store and ordering them on eBay as he got older. Legos became part of the fun at around age 10.

“He was a natural-born collector,” Ken Blankenship said. “I’d say 95% of everything he’s collected is in our house still. Our house needs to lose some weight at some point. Hopefully it’ll end up in his man cave one of these days.”

Blankenship’s youth wasn't all about toys. He played sports, too.

His first love was soccer, which usually is the case with football kickers. Ken Blankenship, a longtime educator, coached club soccer and his son started playing the sport “as soon as I could walk.”

The Blankenships would take trips back to Izabel’s home country of Brazil, where Rodrigo would participate in camps. He often towered over kids the same age as him, and his powerful right foot struck fear in his opponents when it came to trying to block one of his kicks.

“American football was never part of the conversation from when he was about 5 or 6 years old up until he was 10 because he was developing not only in the U.S., but also in Brazil in soccer,” Ken Blankenship said. “The path athletically for him was going to be soccer. He fell into American football accidentally. He had an aptitude for kicking footballs when he started.”

Blankenship’s first experience with kicking a football came in fourth grade, as the ball flew “naturally off his foot,” his father said. Rodrigo attended the first of around 60 camps during middle school, when he was routinely one of the youngest there, among mostly high school athletes.

Blankenship put an emphasis on football as he got older in school because he realized it likely would be easier to get a scholarship in that sport than in soccer, though he played both sports in high school.

Making the transition to football wasn’t easy because Rodrigo was so talented in soccer and the family had put thousands and thousands of miles on their cars driving him to and from practices and games over the years.

“I’ve been around the sport for a long, long time and he’s the second-best high school player I’ve seen, and I’m not saying that as a dad, I’m saying it as a soccer coach,” Ken Blankenship said. “But getting a full scholarship in soccer isn’t always easy. Schools like to give partial scholarships. We weren’t flooded with making money from our jobs in our house.”

Blankenship, a preferred walk-on at Georgia, won the kicking job during his redshirt freshman season. Coach Kirby Smart could have kept Blankenship at that status, but he followed through on a promise former coach Mark Richt had made, giving Rodrigo a scholarship during his sophomore year.

Blankenship was a perfect 200-of-200 on extra points and 80-of-97 on field goals during his college career. He played in the SEC, where every pass, run and kick can weigh heavily. That helped Blankenship prepare for the challenge of making an NFL roster.

“There’s something to be said about playing in the best conference in college with the competition, magnitude of games every single week and with all the competition they bring on the roster every year,” Ventrone said. “I like that he’s played on the big stage and everything else that comes with it. He was prepared well to take on this role, whether he’s using Legos or not.”