Hot Rod to New Guy Pod: How Jack Podlesny was determined to win the UGA football kicker job

Marc Weiszer
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Sep 26, 2020; Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA;  Georgia Bulldogs place kicker Jack Podlesny (96) kicks an extra point as Georgia Bulldogs place kicker Jake Camarda (90) holds during the third quarter of the game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Georgia won the game 37-10. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Glynn Academy’s 2017 state semifinal game unraveled with a flurry of fourth-quarter fumbles to end its season, but interest from colleges was just getting cranked up for Jack Podlesny.

Michigan special teams coordinator Chris Partridge alerted a staffer about the player who caught his eye with booming kickoffs in the game against Lee County and the next month Jack and his father, Ike, made the trip to Ann Arbor to check out the campus.

Other suitors had reached out to the St. Simons Island native including Georgia, Georgia Tech and North Carolina.

Podlesny had already been accepted to Georgia as an early decision and the kicker decided to take the preferred walk-on offer from the Bulldogs over similar opportunities elsewhere.

“He never had intentions of playing college football until his senior year,” Ike Podlesny said. “His high school coach always said he had the potential to kick. Jack kind of like shrugged it off. Didn’t really know what to think of his statements. His coach really believed in him and Jack had a really good senior year.”

Podlesny, an Environmental Health major, made the Dean’s list the past two falls with a 3.5 or better grade point average while quietly practicing behind one of the nation’s best and most eclectic kickers, Rodrigo Blankenship.

“He basically stood behind Rodrigo the last two years,” Ike said.

Podlesny, who coach Kirby Smart this preseason referred to as ‘Pod’ won the competition to succeed the ultra popular Blankenship, perhaps the least known of those vying for the job.

Freshman signee Jared Zirkel from Texas and walk-on Brooks Buce, who kicked off sparingly behind Blankenship, have their bios in Georgia’s football media guide. Podlesny does not.

“He wanted to win that job, and he put his mind to it,” said punter Jake Camarda, who also was in the kicking mix. “He didn’t let things get him down, whether he missed a kick in practice, it was, ’that’s ok we’ve got the next kick.’ He had the next kick mentality every single time whether he made it or missed it. He made a lot of kicks in camp.”

Podlesny made 9 of 10 field goals at his Brunswick high school and put 55 of 61 kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks. When the UGA campus closed down due to COVID-19 concerns this spring, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Podlesny stayed focused and got bigger and stronger and kicked nearly every day back home.

The redshirt sophomore’s college debut went well in Georgia’s 37-10 win at Arkansas.

“I thought he did a tremendous job,” coach Kirby Smart said. “He had a lot of composure. Trust me, it was not easy for him to win that job. There were a lot more intense battles throughout our 25, 26 practices, for him to get to that point. The thing about him is he’s improved.”

Podlesny booted a pair of 38-yard field goals (the first coming after Arkansas twice tried to ice him and he knocked one off the upright) and turned five of six kickoffs into touchbacks.

“It was very nerve-wracking at first,” his father said. “It was all a whirlwind from Thursday afternoon when he told me he was going to be the starting kicker. …We’re still on cloud nine to be honest with you. He knows he still has a long row to hoe. He has competition every day in practice which I think is great for the program.”

Said Smart: “He’s really been impressive with his kickoffs. He kind of won that job first in camp, then he continued to battle at field goals with Zirk and with Camarda, and ended up winning that job.”

Podlesny succeeds a kicker with a cult following who left as the program’s all-time leading scorer who was known as much for his Rec Spec goggles and pink cleats as his kicking prowess.

Georgia’s other specialist, Camarda, is more outgoing with the media this year, telling reporters this week he preferred to talk golf and fielded a bunch of questions on that sport as requested.

“Rod, you know, he was a different breed,” Georgia linebacker Nate McBride said. “He was crazy with the kicks. Anything you would ask of him, he would do it. I think Jack is the same way though. He was up under Rod and got to learn all of his tricks. He got to learn how he would do things. Jack has come a long way and I think he’s a pretty good kicker. He proved that in the Arkansas game and he proved that in practice. That’s why he’s starting.”

So what about Podlesny away from the field?

Well, he wore his hair longer when he first got to Georgia but other than that his father said he’s humble, well-grounded and likes to travel.

“He likes to have a good time, but he’s very reserved and he keeps it with his close knit friends,” he said.

Some intrepid reporting revealed that his favorite food is a cheeseburger from Southern Soul in St. Simons and anything his mother, Bizzy, cooks.

Both of his parents were college athletes as well.

His father played soccer at Old Dominion. His mother, a high school teacher, played field hockey and lacrosse at Catholic University.

Ike Podlesny, entering his 31st year as a high school soccer coach, works in guest services at The Lodge at the Sea Island Golf Club. He grew up in Toms River, N.J. and came to Georgia to work at the Jekyll Island Club.

“I basically spent one winter down here and fell in love with it,” he said. “I had no desire to go back and face the harsh winters of the North.”

Jack was playing soccer at a center-back position when he was asked to come out for football as a freshman but the varsity team was well-stocked at the position. He returned to the team as a junior and became the guy as a senior.

“Coming from playing soccer most of his life, he worked on his leg swing all the time,” said Glynn County assistant Kip Hall, who works with kickers. “He became a student of the position. He worked his tail off to be a good kicker.”

Smart knows Glynn Academy’s head coach well and said he “bragged” on Podlesny.

“Rocky Hidalgo told me all the time how good he was,” Smart said, “and he came to us, walked on, and he’s earned the job thus far.”

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