Sunday, August 19, 2001

Guidugli puts buzz on the Bearcats

Whether his time is now of down the road, the Highlands High star has put UC football at the forefront

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For the first time in a long while, there's a buzz in town about University of Cincinnati football.

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UC quarterbacks vying for the starting job are John Leonard, Adam Hoover, Gino Guidugli and George Murray.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        The team's opener Sept. 2 against Purdue appears headed for a sellout — the first since Nippert Stadium was expanded to 35,000 seats in 1992 — and competing for a starting job is the newly arrived hotshot local quarterback, Gino Guidugli, of Highlands High School.

        UC has had some excellent throwing quarterbacks over the years, but the one Guidugli is drawing comparisons to is the greatest of them all, Greg Cook — the man offensive guru Bill Walsh once called “the greatest talent I've ever seen at the quarterback position.” And Walsh is the guy who coached Joe Montana.

        This isn't to say Guidugli will be Cook, who led the nation in passing as a senior in 1968 and was drafted in the first round by the year-old Bengals in 1969. There are already two major differences: Cook wasn't local (he was from Chillicothe High School), and there wasn't the hubbub surrounding him that there is with Guidugli (in the '60s, freshmen were ineligible for varsity ball, and the national and local media weren't chronicling every high school star's thought and move.

        But rest assured: Guidugli could make a big difference at UC.

        His decision to attend UC in late March represents a program's chance to turn the corner. He doesn't have to be another Cook; he just has to be good, and the Bearcats have to get to bowl games regularly (1997 and 2000 were UC's first bowl seasons since 1950).

        Guidugli doesn't have to play a ton this year to have a positive effect. After all, how many true freshmen start at quarterback?

        “Because of the timing of (Guidugli's UC commitment), it had no effect on last year's recruiting,” UC coach Rick Minter said. “It will have an effect on this year's high school seniors (locally) as they read and hear about him and follow his progress. ... Here's a guy who made a choice to come to Cincinnati, to stay home. ...

        “Sure, he'll have a larger immediate impact if he plays early, plays this year ... (but) he doesn't need to have the pressure put on him to be the Pied Piper. If he becomes that, out of his abilities, that's fine. Right now, our program has to stand up on its own two feet.”


The arms race

        As it is, Guidugli has to beat out three other quarterbacks. Fifth-year senior Adam Hoover filled in ably for injured Deontey Kenner last year. Arizona State transfer John Leonard is regarded as a “winner.” And freshman George Murray of Tallahassee, Fla., is the most athletic of them all. Murray and Guidugli were said to be neck-and-neck among the young-QB competition in summer camp.

        “Gino is a smart kid and physically has a lot, too — tall, strong arm,” Minter said. “He brings what we're looking for to the table in our offense. George Murray has similar qualities. Strong arm, smart ... and part of winning high school programs. Both are good athletes who can ad-lib and make some things happen with their legs.”

        It's all about winning.

        The Bearcats had only one winning season in the 13 years prior to Minter's arrival — 8-3 in Tim Murphy's last season, 1993. Now they've had four in the last six, although just one in the last three (7-5 last season). Although the high-profile Guidugli is the quarterback most able to change the perception of UC among local recruits and in the community, his ascension can't come at the expense of long-term winning.

        UC lost half the 22 starters from last year's Motor City Bowl team. The question is whether it lost too much to upset Purdue, have a good season and then fly into next year when its first two opponents are West Virginia at Nippert Stadium and Ohio State at Paul Brown Stadium.

        The opportunity is huge. But neither Minter nor athletic director Bob Goin would say the UC program is at a crossroads.

        “I don't know if I'd call it a crossroads,” Goin said. “But I think there's an opportunity to be on the elevator and go up a little quicker and stop at some floors. That's a possibility.”

        The crossroads will come in 2005-06, Goin said.

        “When we walk into the new $43 million athletic center with the latest and best academic and training and office and counseling facilities in the country - and along with that you have Shoemaker Center and Nippert Stadium and a beautiful new baseball stadium and a soccer complex and a village like we're planning on doing - and then if we still don't win? There's a crossroads.”

        Goin will be retired by 2005-06. If Minter is still around, he'll need a new contract — his five-year deal expires after the 2002 season. Guidugli will be gone by 2005, unless he redshirts this season. One thing's for sure: Guidugli's legacy will impact Minter's.


'02 schedule a monster

        So, which Guidugli would Minter prefer when the West Virginia and Ohio State games arrive? A redshirt freshman or a true sophomore who's had some seasoning?

        “People must be patient about Gino's impact here,” Minter said. “When will Gino have the ultimate impact? ... It's when his presence at quarterback gives our team the best opportunity to win.”

        Goin agrees.

        “I wanted Gino to come here,” he said. “I worked at it, too. I got involved (in the recruiting). But if we have a quarterback who can put the ball into the end zone better than Gino, then we're obligated as coaches and staff to play the young man who's going to be the best for the team.”

        UC fans are hoping against hope that Guidugli wins the job.

        “I think most everybody felt, and probably still feels, that Gino is our quarterback of the future,” Goin said. “How quick he becomes that, I don't know. ... But when he came here, I thought, "He's our guy.' I wouldn't be afraid to put him in the first game — if he's the guy. ... It appears from all his credentials, he ought to be the man. It appears he can get this program to the next level.

        “If he's good enough to do it, then we've accomplished a whole lot. Sometimes it just takes a kid like that to get everybody excited.”


The legend
Guidugli has heard the name Greg Cook. But not the legend.

        “People have mentioned it to me — "You could be the next Greg Cook' - but nobody's ever explained it,” Guidugli said.

        At Chillicothe, Cook was big (6 feet 4, same as Guidugli) and recruited by many schools, including Ohio State (same as Guidugli).

        “He was Mr. Everything — handsome, talented, a throwback guy, played every sport, a natural leader, made you look better, one of those great athletes who come along,” said then-UC assistant coach Dick MacPherson, who recruited Cook. “He had height, speed and arm strength. He had it all.”

        Cook wound up going to UC, says then-head coach Chuck Studley, partly because, through no fault of his own, he was short on some key courses at Chillicothe, so he went to summer school at UC. (Guidugli had a 3.8 grade-point average).

        By his sophomore year, Cook was tabbed to start, but broke his middle finger when it hit a defender's helmet on the follow-through of a pass in a scrimmage. Doctors said he would probably miss two or three games, but he wound missing most of the season.

        Homer Rice, UC's head coach during Cook's junior and senior seasons, believes Cook didn't open his potential for greatness until he committed to working hard and fully learning the position. That occurred before his senior year, when he would make second-team All-America and lead the nation in completions (219), passing yards (3,272) and touchdowns (25).

        The highlight of his and the Bearcats' 1968 season was when UC beat Miami 23-21 before a sellout crowd in Clifton. UC trailed by three TDs late in the game when the offense caught fire. Cook kept running the two-minute offense flawlessly, and the onside kicks worked.

        Later, in the then-annual College All-Star Game between exiting seniors and the NFL champion - Cook's team lost to Joe Namath's New York Jets. Cook got into the game late, almost led the collegians to victory and was named the game's MVP.

        “He showed he was the All-American,” Rice said.

        As a rookie, Cook hurt his shoulder leading the Bengals to their third straight upset win to start the season. He returned to play in eight games overall, was named AFL Rookie of the Year and led the league in passing, but his shoulder was never the same, and that is where the legend basically ended.

The next legend

               The Guidugli legend is just beginning. Or maybe it peaked at Highlands. Who knows? The point is: People will watch — but in person or from afar?

        Can Guidugli improve the lure of UC football?

        “Yes, but it won't just be me,” Guidugli said. “I think there are a lot of players from the Tristate who will have a lot of people come watch them who are a part of it: Doug Monaghan (Colerain) and Kenwood Lattimore (Winton Woods) and Billy Faulkner (Harrison County), whose fans are only an hour's drive away, and guys who are already here like Willis Edwards (Moeller). We're all going to make difference.

        “And we've got Richard Hall (Wyoming), who has transferred back here from Ohio State and will be eligible next year. People don't know us yet, but they're going to find out about us soon.”

        Guidugli originally wanted to play at Kentucky, but changed his mind after head coach Hal Mumme was fired, and the Wildcats lost 19 scholarships because of rules violations. He chose Cincinnati after visiting — and nixing - Notre Dame (three quarterbacks in the class just ahead of him and an assistant coach who wouldn't commit to being there), Mississippi State (ran too much) and North Carolina (wouldn't commit to an offense yet).

        “I liked (UC's new offensive coordinator) Dave Baldwin and the quarterback coach, Coach 'Ski (Jeff Filkovski),” Guidugli said. “I sat down and wrote the pros and cons of going to each school, and UC came out on top.

        “The pros were that it's close to home — my family can come see me play easily, and I can go to my (younger) brothers' games — and there's a chance to play early and it's a system I'm really comfortable in, because they throw a lot and they use the shotgun (formation). And all the players were great when I went over to visit.”

        And the cons?

        “Conference USA isn't as strong as some of the others, but it's still good,” he said. “We aren't going to draw 100,000 fans (every game) like Tennessee, but that didn't bother me. The facilities weren't as good as some other places, but they're getting better. Overall, UC is on the rise, getting better.”

        His goals for UC?

        “I'd love to win a couple of Conference USA titles, go to some bowls and get ranked in the Top 25,” he said.

        He is as patient as an 18-year-old can be.

        “Right now, at this moment, I don't think I'm ready to start,” he said. “But after (fall) camp, who knows? Maybe a miracle occurs, and I come out as the man.”

        For now, Guidugli's just a freshman, subject to the type of treatment upperclassmen have been dishing out since the days of letter sweaters. Senior defensive back Blue Adams recently led a haircutting posse that corralled freshmen and gave them buzz cuts.

        “Gino tried to run at first, but he's a quarterback,” Adams said. “He can run from offensive linemen, not DBs. I told him, "I'm not going to gash your head and make it hard for you to learn the plays. I'm just gonna get close to the skin.' I also told him that I understood he had great (high school) credentials, but that he had to get a baldy like everybody else.”

        Guidugli is a quick study. He let his arm do the talking.

        “The first day (of practice), Blue picked me off; the second day, he tipped me; and then I took him deep,” Guidugli said.


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