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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Of all of the Ohio State players who made improvements in the offseason, there's a chance that the one who made the longest strides won't play a meaningful snap this season.
There's an old adage that the most popular guy in each football town is the backup quarterback, but in Columbus, that might only ring true inside the OSU coaches' office. While sophomore Braxton Miller may sell more jerseys and take all of the first-team reps at quarterback, it's been his understudy, Kenny Guiton, who's received unsolicited praise from the Buckeyes' coaching staff.
And nobody is more surprised by that than first-year Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer.
"You talk about a 180, Kenny Guiton, I mean his time in Columbus was limited, just with the way he was doing things," Meyer said. "Now Kenny Guiton's on my leadership team. That's one of the biggest turnarounds I've ever seen in six months. To go from where he was in January when I walked through the doors and did my homework on him to where he is right now, I'm really proud of that guy."
The Aldine, Texas native's transformation couldn't have come at a better time for the Buckeyes. After arriving in Columbus in 2009 as an unheralded recruit, Guiton never found himself higher than third on the Buckeyes' depth chart in his first three seasons at Ohio State. Even during a tumultuous 2011 season that saw Miller suffer injuries and Joe Bauserman prove to be ineffective, Guiton never attempted a pass for the Buckeyes.
With just two pass attempts, one completion for five yards, and an interception to his credit in his career, it was clear that Guiton was going to have to make some serious changes if he ever wanted to contribute at Ohio State. And while Meyer's first impression of his new backup may have been a negative one, Guiton knew just what he needed to do to impress his new coaches.
"I think just work ethic," Guiton said, when asked how he's managed to change Meyer's perception of him. "Coming out every day working hard, showing them exactly who I am. I'm a hard worker and I'm going to come out and give it my all every day."
With that newfound work ethic has come a change of attitude, as Guiton has found a way to contribute to his team, even when he's on the sideline and it's Miller who's taking the snaps.
"My biggest improvement is just coming out and having leadership with the team," he said. "With the younger guys now looking up to me, I have to lead."
But it's not just the 6-foot-3, 205-pound quarterback's mindset that's improved. He spent the summer working with strength coach Mickey Marroti to help increase his arm strength and add velocity to his passes in hopes of closing the gap on some of the physical advantages that Miller holds over him.
"That's something I've focused on all summer long. Coach Mick helped me out with that and I did extra lifting and all that and everything, so I'm just trying to do my best to work on that velocity," Guiton said. "It's more putting your legs into it, so I've been trying to work on that a lot and keeping my legs under myself and not getting outside of my frame."
Now a redshirt junior, Guiton enters 2012 as the team's undisputed back-up, behind Miller and in front of true freshman Cardale Jones. And he's making the most of his opportunity.
"I love Kenny Guiton. Kenny's a guy that can survive a lot on mental reps," Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said. "He's a really sharp guy that understands the offense, understands the tempo, lacks obviously some of the physical tools that Braxton has, but makes up for it in the way that he plays mentally."
Herman was quick to rule out the possibility of a quarterback controversy arising in Columbus any time soon, but regardless of Guiton's role on the team, Meyer is confident that his lifestyle changes will suit him better in the long run.
"I want him to go compete, that will make Braxton better, but we're talking about a two, three-year period of his life. I'm talking about the next 40 years. I see some really good stuff that I didn't see in January, and really no one did," Meyer said. "He's got a good life ahead of him."
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