COLUMBUS — Kenny Guiton called his parents in Houston mid-Wednesday, the news yet to settle in.
Could they believe it? He was a captain at Ohio State?
Guiton thought back to February of 2009 when he was all set to play at Prairie View A&M — an FCS school 45 miles up the road from Houston best known for its NCAA-record 80-game losing streak in the 1990s.
OSU scrambled into the picture only at the zero hour, its coaches desperate to find a third scholarship quarterback after Virginia’s Tajh Boyd spurned them for Clemson and Kettering’s Austin Boucher decided to remain committed to Miami (Ohio). The recruitment was so hurried that Guiton’s first contact with OSU came less than a week before signing day.
Five years later, as No. 2 Ohio State opens the season at noon today against visiting Buffalo, the Buckeyes can’t imagine life without him.
“That’s crazy, that’s crazy,” Guiton said. “I just got done talking to my parents about that. When I found out I was a captain, we were saying, ‘Man, to think about it ... we were almost at Prairie View.’ Now, I came up here, and I’ve made something happen. It’s pretty cool.”
Guiton is the most unlikely of the Buckeyes’ eight captains — a player who never dreamed of coming to OSU and was nearly run off by coach Urban Meyer, only to become an indispensable mentor to star quarterback Braxton Miller and burrow deep into the hearts of teammates and fans.
When players gathered Tuesday to choose the team’s captains, senior left tackle and St. John’s Jesuit graduate Jack Mewhort received the most votes. Then it was senior safety C.J. Barnett. Then the senior backup quarterback.
“Isn’t that awesome?” Meyer said of Guiton. “That tells you what kind of an incredible kid he is. His parents need to be proud of that guy.”
That a career backup could earn such respect is rare. Especially a backup who had a reputation for being less than fully committed. Upon his arrival, Meyer questioned Guiton’s work ethic and said, “He was ready to get a one-way bus ticket back to Texas.”
But Guiton vowed to prove otherwise and has since become a mooring presence in the quarterbacks room. Though he will not play a critical snap if all goes to plan this year, his value is not overlooked.
Offensive coordinator Tom Herman calls Guiton “a rock.” Miller calls him his “big brother.” Meyer just calls him “coach,” and said, “I think he should be a coach, I really do.”
On the sidelines today, Guiton will be a key conduit between Miller on the field and Herman in the clouds from his perch in the press box.
“I’ll be letting Braxton know exactly what I’m seeing on the field and just keep him informed,” Guiton said. “I’ll also talk to coach Herman and try to help him out as much as I can.”
He will also stay ready. If last year showed anything, it is that the script can detour. He adeptly relieved a momentarily out-of-service Miller in each of the Buckeyes’ first three Big Ten games — they reached the end zone each time — then was summoned to preserve perfection Oct. 20 against Purdue.
Guiton replaced the hospital-bound Miller and led the offense 61 yards during the final 47 seconds for a touchdown and a game-tying two-point conversion, then guided the Buckeyes to a 29-22 overtime victory that made him the toast of the state.
“When I went down, he said, ‘I got you, man,’ ” Miller recalled. “So I felt good going into the ambulance.”
The Buckeyes hope their Heisman favorite — who has been knocked out of games each of the past five years dating to high school — will avoid harm this season. But chances are OSU will at some juncture need Guiton, and if they do, Herman said he will turn to his insurance option with confidence.
Though lacking the physical gifts of Miller, an admittedly biased Herman said the 6-foot-3, 208-pound Guiton has a studied knack for the position that would allow him to start at more than half of the Division I programs.
“I’ve been to a lot of places in my career,” Herman said, “where we would have been doing jumping jacks and cartwheels down the hallway if he was our starting quarterback.”
Guiton always wishes he could play more, and sometimes he wonders if he should have sought an opportunity elsewhere.
“It comes up in my head,” he said. “What if? What if I did this or that?”
But then Guiton flips the question. What if he hadn’t come to OSU?
What if he hadn’t played a cameo part in school history? Or gained so much respect that teammates named him a captain? Or embarked on the ride of his life?
“I’m here,” he said, “and I’m happy I came here.”