Cover story | Kenny Guiton
Kenny Guiton has become an inspirational figure, rising from the bottom of the depth chart to deliver victories for the Buckeyes
It all feels like a dream to Kenny Guiton.
Last year’s Purdue game was a moment — a glorious moment, but in the end only a moment.
What the Ohio State quarterback has done the past two weeks is validation. Guiton now knows without a doubt that he belongs, that feats he dared not even imagine can come true.
Guiton might not start Saturday against huge underdog Florida A&M; that depends on Braxton Miller’s knee. But Buckeye fans no longer have to worry if Guiton is under center, regardless of the opponent.
The fifth-year senior played well in taking over after Miller was injured early against San Diego State, and he was even better last week at California. His four-touchdown performance earned him Walter Camp national offensive player of the week honors, and the same from the Big Ten.
“I never saw this coming,” Guiton said. “Being the backup, I knew I would play a role in the season. I knew there would be times I’d maybe have to come in to do something. But never in a million years would I have guessed that I’d be a national player of the week.”
His is the story of the underdog who endured and triumphed, who faced a fork in the road and made the right choice. Guiton has been guided by caring parents and challenged by a new coaching staff that demanded his best. But he also has been driven by an unplanned surprise that turned into his biggest blessing of all.
Guiton thought the call was a prank. A high-school teammate and friend at Eisenhower High School in Houston, called him in late January 2009 and told him that an Ohio State assistant coach, John Peterson, had come looking for him. Guiton happened to be home sick, the only day the honor-roll student missed his senior year. He blew off the teammate’s call.
Then Guiton’s father called. Kenneth Guiton is an assistant football coach at Eisenhower, and he had gotten a call from the head coach that Peterson was there. That got Guiton out of bed.
“He got well quick,” Kenneth said, laughing.
Ohio State’s top quarterback targets in the 2009 recruiting class all chose other schools. The Buckeyes needed a quarterback to fill out the class, and Guiton, who until then was headed to nearby Prairie View A&M, accepted the offer almost on the spot.
All he knew about Ohio State was its rivalry with Michigan. He came from a close-knit family that consisted of Kenneth, his mother, Veronica and older sister, Lakeisha. The thought of moving more than 1,200 miles from home was unsettling, but how could he turn down Ohio State?
He knew he would be starting from the bottom. If there had been a ranking of Ohio State’s 85 scholarship players, Guiton probably would have been 85th.
“That’s all motivation,” he said. “I was under the radar. That’s what my mom always told me: You’re under the radar, so why not just go out there and work hard and do what you can?”
Guiton redshirted as a true freshman and attempted two passes in 2010 — his first collegiate attempt, against Indiana, was intercepted. He had a chance at the starting spot in 2011 after Terrelle Pryor’s abrupt departure, but he didn’t come close to winning it. The job went to Joe Bauserman, then to freshman Miller, and Guiton appeared in one game with no pass attempts.
Soon after Urban Meyer was hired as coach, it looked as if Guiton wouldn’t last long under the new regime. It didn’t help that Guiton was late for Meyer’s first team meeting after the Gator Bowl loss because he’d gone to pick up teammate Orhian Johnson, whose car wouldn’t start.
As it was, Meyer had not heard great things about Guiton.
“He got lackadaisical,” Kenneth Guiton said. “He wasn’t focused the way he should have been and coach Meyer saw it. He gave him an ultimatum: You get focused or you’ll take a trip back to Texas. He has never been one to back away from the challenge.”
Meyer’s ultimatum wasn’t the only reason for Guiton to mature quickly. In the winter of 2012, he learned that he would become a father. The circumstances weren’t ideal, but Guiton accepted his responsibility and soon embraced the idea of fatherhood.
“That’s instant motivation,” he said. “Knowing you’ve got a son on the way, that’s a mini-you. That’s how I felt. That’s a mini-me. I want him to be better than me.”
Jordan Zyaire Guiton was born on Oct. 1, 19 days before Guiton rallied the Buckeyes to the improbable overtime victory over Purdue in relief of the injured Miller.
Jordan lives with his mother in Columbus — “She’s a great mother,” Guiton said — and Guiton sees him practically every day during the offseason and as often as he can during the season.
“My relationship with my dad set the tone for me,” Guiton said. “Once I knew I had a son on the way, I thought, ‘It’s my turn now, and I want to be as good a father as my father has been.’ ”
Kenneth wasn’t his only role model for parenthood.
“I think my dad helped me out a lot, and coach Meyer and (offensive coordinator) coach (Tom) Herman helped me a lot with that,” Guiton said. “I don’t think they even know they help me with that.
“Coach has a slogan: If you want to be treated like a man, you have to be a man. That slogan has helped me grow up. I have to be a man for this little boy. I don’t even think the coaches know how much they’ve helped me out with that, just showing me the fathers they are to their kids.”
Guiton’s eyes light up at the mention of his son. Jordan is too young to understand the folk hero that his dad has become, but that doesn’t stop Guiton.
“I asked if he was cheering for me,” he said with a laugh. “I talk to him like he understands everything.”
Guiton is on schedule to graduate in December with a degree in financial planning. He revels in his status as a team captain, a testament to the esteem in which his teammates regard him, both for his work ethic and engaging personality. He accepts that he’s Miller’s backup, refusing to even hint at providing the oxygen that might fan a quarterback controversy.
All Guiton can do is control what he can — as a student, as a player, as a father. He’s flourishing at all three.
His biggest fan might be the coach who almost sent him home.
“Arguably one of the most interesting case studies I’ve ever had as a coach is the story of Kenny Guiton,” Meyer said. “If you knew where he was a year and a half ago … If you buy stock, buy stock in Kenny Guiton, because what he’s going to do after football some day is going to be really neat.”