For Kenny Guiton, the past five years have been about getting an opportunity.
First, he wanted to play for major college football. That came to fruition in remarkable fashion, with Ohio State scrambling for a quarterback weeks before signing day in 2009. But he came to Columbus with little chance of playing, located behind Terrelle Pryor and then Braxton Miller on the depth chart.
Everything changed on Oct. 20, 2012 against Purdue.
Guiton took control of the offense while Miller rode in the back of an ambulance. Everything about the moment looked bleak. Ohio State’s undefeated season was on the brink, its star quarterback appeared to suffer a serious injury and the backup tossed an ill-advised interception.
But it all turned around in the final minute of regulation. Down eight, 61 yards away and with just 47 seconds left, Guiton engineered a seven-play drive that will live in Buckeye lore. Ohio State won in overtime, jumpstarting the legend of Kenny Guiton.
It would only continue to grow when he won three consecutive games in 2013, setting numerous school records in the process. Guiton’s final numbers for his senior season read: 75 for 109, 749 yards passing, 14 touchdown passes, two interceptions, 330 yards rushing, five touchdowns.
Now, with the NFL Draft looming in May, college football’s most famous backup quarterback just wants the same thing he coveted five years ago: a chance to play.
“I’m just looking for a shot,” he said after Ohio State’s Pro Day. “I don’t mind where I’m picked up at – free agency, late rounds – it doesn't matter. I just want the shot.”
It’s the road less traveled, but not the road never traveled. Joe Montana and Tom Brady, arguably the two greatest quarterbacks ever, were selected 82nd and 199th, respectively, in the draft. Matt Cassel will never be grouped with the all-time greats at his position. But like Guiton, he spent the entirety of his college career as a backup – to Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart at USC – before becoming a starter in the NFL.
In 2008, Cassel relieved Brady, who tore his ACL in the season opener, and led the Patriots to an 11-5 record. Cassel started his first game since high school that season.
Guiton has a private workout scheduled with the Patriots March 26. It’s not all that surprising when you ponder the friendship between Bill Belichick and Urban Meyer. Still, it serves as an opportunity for Guiton to wow Belichick, Josh McDaniels and the rest of the Patriots’ brass.
“They know quarterbacks,” Guiton said. “I look at guys like Brady – he’s one of the biggest idols I have right now because he was a guy who wasn’t big going in[to the draft] and hard work took him to the top. That’s the one thing I want to do.”
A year ago, Guiton’s mindset was completely different. He entered his senior season discouraged, believing his football career was in the twilight stage. Then Miller’s injury and Guiton’s subsequent rise to stardom put the graduate assistant plans on hold.
“Things change,” said Guiton, who doesn’t even have 1,000 career passing yards.
The name Kenny Guiton is known throughout the football landscape, but his film is lacking. The three opponents he faced last season – San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M – weren’t world beaters, and his Purdue performance was essentially limited to one series.
There are hints of the “it” factor, his leadership is undeniable and Guiton’s mechanics have improved dramatically since he arrived at Ohio State as a lanky freshman. But visions of a dramatic professional transformation remain farfetched. Don’t tell that to Guiton, though. He remains “very confident.”
“I think an NFL team should draft me because I'm a great leader,” he said. “I’ll come in with some leadership, a positive mindset, and I'm going to learn. I’m going to come out every day with a great mentality – outgoing, joking around. I’m going to compete with whoever is the starter, whoever is the backup. I’m going to compete. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
“One day when my number’s called, whether it’s sooner, whether it’s later, I do want to be that next Matt Cassel or that next Tom Brady – the guy that can step in and never look back.”