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September 18, 2013

All good things come to an end

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Kenny Guiton has figuratively and literally spent much of his career in the shadow of Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

In the sense of the former, the fifth-year backup has long been an afterthought to his Heisman-worthy counterpart.

In the sense of the latter, Guiton -- quite literally -- would line up behind Miller during practice and mirror his motions, his progressions and his throws.

"I'd be about 10-15 yards behind him making sure no one runs into me or anything, I don't want to hurt anybody," Guiton said.

"I make sure I'm back and I'm going through the drops and I'm going through my reads on that play making sure me and him are thinking the same things."

That might explain why Guiton -- who'd never previously started a game at Ohio State -- looked like a veteran quarterback in both skill and poise.

Throwing 21-of-32 for 276 yards and four touchdowns (not to mention 92 rushing yards) in a 52-34 win against California Saturday in Berkeley is not usually a feat conquered by players like Guiton; players who spend most of their career dreaming about the day their number's called.

It's not to say that Guiton, who came to Columbus in 2009, has spent every waking moment on the bench. He had his moments -- while few -- as the toast of the town.

He endeared himself to Buckeye fans near and far last year after engineering a last-gasp drive and subsequent overtime win against Purdue to salvage what eventually became a perfect season.

"Kenny G" or "KG" they dubbed him.

His coach, Urban Meyer, affectionately knows him as "the old right hander" or "Coach Guiton."

But with Miller still nursing a MCL sprain suffered against San Diego State on Sept. 7, the player with so many nicknames had something else to finally call himself: a starting quarterback.

"As I ran out for warmups with the team and coach Meyer called up one offense and I had to run out with them," Guiton said, "that's when I noticed, man, I'm really out here about to start my first game and it's away."

Who would've thought the outing would earn him the Walter Camp national Offensive Player of the Week award and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors.

"Man, that means a lot," Guiton said before briefly pausing to reflect. "It means a lot. I never saw that coming you know in my first start I was just hoping to go out there and win a game for the team. I told myself I was going out and I was gonna have fun, I was gonna have fun with my brothers and go out and try to win a game for my team."

It might also be equally hard to believe that 18 months ago, Meyer said he wasn't sure if Guiton would last at Ohio State.

"Arguably one of the most interesting case studies I've ever had as a coach is the story of Kenny Guiton," he said. "And if you knew where he was January a year-and-a-half ago -- I'm a parent so you go right to thinking can you imagine being his parent right now? How cool that would be to see his development."

And Meyer has probably got a point. It feels hard to remember the last time such a fervent buzz swarmed the backup quarterback of any football team, let alone Ohio State.

But Guiton's story seems like it starts to follow a cliche-littered narrative that's common in college football; the triumphant kind that finds a player tasked with facing some sort of adversity before surely and inevitably overcoming it.

It's not to knock the Houston native's journey, but it might help to put it in perspective.

If the narrative continues to its most extreme extent, Guiton assumes the role of a permanent starter in Miller's absence and then makes people forget about the dynamic playmaker altogether. He guides the Buckeyes to another undefeated season. He exits the Rose Bowl riding off into the Pasadena, Calif., sunset with a national championship in tow.

That all probably won't happen since it seems like one of the only things not tired and trite about the Kenny Guiton fairytale is the way it will ultimately end.

Meyer and other members of Ohio State maintain Miller's still their man. There's little, if any, ambiguity there. And while they've talked about trying to find a way for Guiton to get on the field in the future, they make no guarantees.

"Braxton is the guy," said junior wide receiver Devin Smith, "but that shows the character in Kenny. He's not one of those guys that he comes in the game and does what he do and then Braxton comes back and he's pouting."

The notion Smith suggests breaks the narrative too.

Guiton's OK with resigning himself back to the sideline, back to dropping back in Miller's shadow.

"I'm all with the team," he said. "I've been like that for four-and-a-half years. Why change now?"

And really, why would he? It's gotten him this far.



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