Guiton's OSU career nearly didn't happen

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Pick a sample size, change the pool of voters, it hardly makes a difference to an approval rating that might as well be a unanimous endorsement.

Limit it to teammates, and the votes poured in to make Kenny Guiton a captain at Ohio State.

Expand it to one of the largest stadiums in college football, and the fans that pack the Horseshoe have made their feelings well known by chanting the senior’s name.

Even across the country, a brief stint in the spotlight in September earned him recognition as the national player of the week and turned him into a household name.

That near universal admiration is rare enough for anybody, let alone a backup quarterback.

But Ohio State's has become a cult hero. And as he takes in the appreciation for what he’s accomplished for the last time on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, he will do so knowing just how easily he could have missed out on it entirely.

The accidental Buckeye

Tom Herman wasn’t the only recruiter who had taken an interest in the quarterback from Houston, but he was in the same boat as the rest of the small handful of coaches seeking Guiton's services back in 2008.

Then an assistant at Rice, Herman saw the multipurpose potential Guiton brought to the position. There was an accurate, but not overpowering, arm capable of leading a passing attack. Mobility, but perhaps not game-changing acceleration, which could extend plays and pose a threat as a rusher.

But Guiton wasn’t the kind of recruit worth waiting around forever for, and ultimately Rice had to move on and take another quarterback.

“Kenny had kind of put off his decision, kept waiting and waiting,” Herman said. “At that time we felt like we had to fish or cut bait.

“I think that’s why it didn’t work out for a lot of different places that he originally had offers to.”

At the top of Guiton’s list was Kansas.

When he called the Jayhawks, they had already filled their need for a passer.

Guiton placed a call to his next choice in the Big 12.

“I called Iowa State, and they were like, ‘We just had a commit two or three days ago,’” Guiton said. “I just waited too long.

"After a while, there was nothing on the table.”

There was still Prairie View A&M, and after dragging his feet, that option was looking pretty appealing.

Then Ohio State swooped in unexpectedly after it was spurned by its top targets and scrambling to fill the late void in its 2009 recruiting class, offering a nice landing spot in the Big Ten. But what it didn’t necessarily provide was a place where much was expected of him.

Even Rice thought it might have a bit of a project on its hands with Guiton, and the Buckeyes were in reasonably good shape at the position in the first place.

“I’d be lying to you if I told you we thought [at Rice] this was possible,” said Herman, now the quarterbacks coach at Ohio State. “They didn’t here, let’s be honest. Nobody did, and Kenny has continued to prove the naysayers wrong in everything he does.

“I think they understood he would be a developmental guy, and he has exceeded expectations. And I think he understands that, and it adds a little fuel to his fire, a little chip on his shoulder.”

It would come in handy again well after arriving on campus.

Career at a crossroads

Braxton Miller had individual awards already after a breakout freshman season, and he also had the support of a new coach before spring practice even started in 2012.

Guiton couldn't blame Urban Meyer for his enthusiasm about working with the freakishly talented Miller in his spread offense, and in truth he had no problem again accepting a role as a backup. But with the sense there would be no battle for the starting job, not to mention showing up late for Meyer’s first team meeting and having what Guiton himself called a “childish mentality,” the relationship didn't get off to an ideal start for either party.

“He wasn’t acting like a quarterback at Ohio State,” Meyer said. “That’s a lofty standard to play quarterback at a place like this. You’re expected to live your life a certain way, and he wasn’t doing it.”

Guiton was again at a crossroads.

He hadn’t done anything of consequence for the Buckeyes, and it would have been difficult then to predict Guiton might wind up being somebody who would be missed.

He made some calls home to his family, who pointed out the value of a degree at Ohio State. He talked it over with his close teammates, in the process recognizing how deep their bond was after already enduring plenty of adversity together. He also survived the early morning workouts with strength coach Mickey Marotti as part of his punishment for showing up late to that meeting, proving to the staff he had the toughness to make it in their program.

“I was like, ‘This guy is on me and I’m not even his starter,’” Guiton said. “The vibe wasn’t there. Is it worth it? That’s what I’m thinking. Is it worth it?

“But, man, I’ve been through so much. I feel like I’ve grown to be a man, and that really helped me to mature.”

Improvements as a football player came along with the maturation.

‘Kenny G … Kenny G’

There would be no acclaim if Guiton hadn’t delivered when given the opportunity.

When Miller has been knocked out of action, Guiton has showed an uncanny ability to come directly off the bench and finish scoring drives.

Most memorably, he salvaged an unbeaten season last year by rallying the Buckeyes in the final minute to force overtime against Purdue when Miller had been sent to the hospital.

He added his lore in September during his first career start at California, throwing three touchdowns in the first six minutes, finishing with 368 yards of total offense and earning national player of the week honors. The next time out, he set a school record with six touchdown passes -- all in the first half.

He returned to the bench for Big Ten play as Miller healed and reclaimed his job, but it was clear Guiton wasn’t forgotten even if the spotlight was gone.

The Buckeyes installed a two-quarterback package nicknamed “Jazzy” in reference to Guiton’s shared moniker with musician Kenny G., a reflection of the faith in him from within the program. And the roar of approval from the Ohio State fans when "Jazzy" made its debut against Penn State, his first action since Miller’s return, confirmed that his popularity with the public hadn’t waned a bit.

The ensuing touchdown on a 2-yard rush only dialed up the volume.

“I was kind of nervous for the snap,” Guiton said. “Everyone was yelling, standing ovation. Then after the game, Coach Meyer came up to me and was doing that chant: ‘Kenny-G, Kenny-G.’

“I told him, ‘I know, coach. I love it.’”

The feeling is obviously mutual. And from the smallest sample size in the locker room to the larger one in the stadium, Ohio State will have one more chance to show it to the backup quarterback with the perfect approval rating.