COLUMBUS: The captain jogged onto the field inside an eerily quiet Ohio Stadium, looked 10 teammates in the eyes and simply said, “let’s go.” And off they went, scoring a touchdown on the first play Kenny Guiton handled the ball.
That’s the way it has typically gone the past two years. Braxton Miller gets hurt, Guiton enters the game and the Buckeyes score. His presence on this roster means Miller’s isn’t always necessary, as absurd as that might sound. Braxton Miller is a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy, yet Guiton’s presence means a convincing case could be made that Miller isn’t the most important player on the roster.
Think I’m crazy? Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman called Guiton the best backup quarterback in the country this summer and said he could start for at least half of the teams in the country.
High praise for a guy who struggled to get an offer from an FBS school a few years ago. Now he’s a captain for the No. 3 team in the nation.
“He’s too slow, not a strong enough arm,” Urban Meyer joked of Guiton following Ohio State’s 42-7 victory Saturday against San Diego State. “But all he does is lead and manage and distribute and has an incredible knowledge of the game.”
Guiton accounted for 235 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday. Meyer praised him for always getting the offense into the right play call, which is crucial for the quarterback to do in this offense. It’s not much of a surprise Guiton can do it, though, since his head coach keeps telling him he should be a coach some day.
It has been a remarkable journey for a guy who was committed to Prairie View A&M five years ago before Ohio State sprinted into Texas just a few days before national signing day.
The folk story surrounding Troy Smith was that he was an afterthought and the last member to join Ohio State’s recruiting class, only to develop into a Heisman winner. Jim Tressel has often debunked that tale, but Guiton truly was the final commit of Tressel’s class in 2009.
The Buckeyes had been snubbed by bigger names and had just two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, leaving them desperate to add anybody who could throw a spiral. They went to Houston and talked to Guiton, a little-known three-star recruit (according to Rivals.com) who had never heard from the Buckeyes until then.
Choosing between staying home and playing for a team that once lost 80 consecutive games (still an NCAA record) or playing for a perennial national championship contender didn’t take long. Guiton quickly packed his bags.
But Meyer wanted rid of Guiton when the two first met. He didn’t work hard enough and didn’t seem committed to the program. Only now he’s a senior and one of the most respected leaders on the team, earning the third-most votes for captain — more than Miller — when the players voted in February.
Still, there were times the past few years he thought about transferring. Terrelle Pryor was entrenched as the starter when he arrived, then Guiton was passed quickly by Miller once Pryor’s star burned out in Columbus.
“I talked to my parents [about transferring] and we all knew going anywhere else, you’re not going to get it this good,” Guiton said. “[Staying] was the right decision to make.”
It’s realistic to assume Saturday wasn’t the last time Guiton will be used this season. Miller’s style exposes him to injuries and he has proven to be fragile in this his third season as a starter, but Guiton entered the game directing touchdowns on eight of the 15 drives he had been part of at quarterback.
He quickly made it nine scores in 16 drives when his first play, a handoff to fellow Texan Dontre Wilson, also ended in the end zone and extended the streak to 14 touchdowns in 24 possessions before the Buckeyes failed to score the last four times they had the ball Saturday.
“That’s another thing I can’t explain,” Guiton said. “I try not to think about that when I hit the field. I try to think, ‘First down, first down, explosive play, explosive play,’ until we’re in the end zone.”
One of those explosive plays Saturday was his 44-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, a play Guiton called for himself in the huddle. The play took so long to develop, Meyer thought it was closer to a 60-yard run and had to be corrected on the exact length.
“I guess it took him awhile,” Meyer joked.
It fits with the rest of his story. It took Guiton awhile to get his scholarship offer and it has taken him awhile to get his big opportunity. Regardless of how long it takes, Guiton’s trips typically end in glory.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Buckeyes blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/buckeye-blogging. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.