Ben Guidugli has a welcoming smile with big dimples. He's the kind of kid you like right away. He's totally honest and maybe naïve because he believed everyone else was just like him. As a 1st team all-state receiver at Highlands High School, Ben had to make a tough decision. Mark Dantonio had offered a scholarship early in the recruiting process, and Ben had accepted. But after making that verbal commitment to Cincinnati, Dan Hawkins from pass happy Boise State had taken the head coaching position at Colorado, and Hawkins really liked what he saw of Ben. Hawkins needed players to run his offense, and he was putting his no huddle recruiting attack on Ben. The stakes were high and the pressure to make the best decision was tough.
On Ben's official visit to Colorado, Coach Hawkins pulled out all the stops. The Buffaloes have a nice, big stadium in a beautiful setting of Boulder, and even their mascot, Ralphie the buffalo, was used to impress the Kentucky kid. Meanwhile, Coach Dantonio retaliated as he struggled to send text messages to retain the younger Guidugli. When Ben returned home, Bearcat assistant coach, Dan Enos, pitched the Bearcat offense and how it would utilize Ben's skills. Ben admits it was a tough decision, but he decided to stay with the coaching staff he liked and trusted and ultimately signed with the Bearcats. Not long after signing that letter of intent with UC, Bearcat assistant Dan Enos left the Cincinnati staff to return to his alma mater, Michigan State. Ben felt betrayed. "I was real disappointed. I felt that they betrayed me and lied to me, but I guess that's part of the system to get players. Then I came in, and it was a whole different offense than what he (Coach Enos) had showed me. I was basically disappointed."
Despite the loss of Coach Enos and unfulfilled promises of a complimentary offense, Ben still felt loyalty for a head coach he liked. "It was a tough decision, but the main thing that kept me here was Cincinnati was with me from the beginning. Coach Dantonio was honest with me, at least I felt like he was. He told me he was going to be here for my whole career. I just felt comfortable with the whole situation, but when they all left, it was like I really can't trust anybody I guess."
There's an old saying that it's always darkest before the dawn, and that was exactly the case for Ben. "When the new coaches came in nobody knew what to think, but after I saw the offense they were bringing and where I'd be playing in it, I knew it would fit me right from the start. I knew I could shine in this offense just like I did in high school. I'm back to doing what I'm good at doing." Ben was a 1,000 yard receiver in his senior year at Highlands.
Ben was obviously a fine player at Highlands High School, but the red shirt freshman at Cincinnati doesn't look even remotely like that high school kid. "In high school I probably weighed about 205. Now I weigh between 235 and 240 pounds." Dave Guidugli, Ben's father, said Ben now bench presses 450 pounds.
Like most good players, Ben knows there's plenty of room to improve. "I just go out there every day and try to get better. If I don't get my job done, they'll bring somebody else in who will. I'm always ready to win my job and stay on the field and make plays." Ben couldn't give Coach Kelly's offensive system a better endorsement. "I love this system. They put me in positions to do what I'm best at. In the old offense of Coach Dantonio's, I was really a fullback running in the hole and blocking people. That's not what I'm good at. This system puts me in positions to make plays." Despite this being a spread offense, there is a lot of versatility for running the football too. "We try to keep the defense off guard, and then we'll hurry up and get on the line and snap it so the defense never really knows what we're coming at them with."
Ben sees his older brother's name on the facing of Shank Pavilion every day. Is it tough following in Gino's footsteps? "I don't think about it. I'm just trying to come out here and do my best every day. He did his thing, and I'm trying to do mine. I'm not a quarterback."
There's a third Guidugli who will likely be the junior quarterback at Highlands next season. Is there a chance there could be two Guiduglis on the same Bearcat football team? "I'd like to get him over here so he can throw me some touchdowns."
Unlike many northern Kentucky kids, Ben has always preferred the Bearcats to the in-state Wildcats. "I was always a Cincinnati fan for some reason. I guess because my dad trained the UC basketball players. I remember being around Danny Fortson and them and always liking Cincinnati."
When asked about his older brother, Ben acquiesced to his father, Dave. "He was doing a good job in NFL Europe, but they were only taking two quarterbacks. Gino may sign with Vancouver and play in the Canadian league. Coach Kelly said today that he'd love to have Gino help out here. He could become a GA (grad assistant) and get into college coaching. I think Gino still wants to play, but he's starting to think about other things. I think Gino is good enough to play in the National Football League. It's a matter of him getting his break, but I think his future could be in college coaching too."
Dave agrees that things have worked out well for his middle son. "Ben was thinking about trying to move to linebacker last year rather than always being a blocker at fullback, but things couldn't have worked out better with Coach Kelly's offense."
With Ben's size, speed and hands, he thinks he's a match-up problem for linebackers. "I do. I don't think many linebackers have the skills to cover me one-on-one. If a safety ends up on me, I can use my body to box them out and go get the ball."
Last season was tough for Ben as he wondered what could go wrong next, but now he's all smiles and ecstatic that he was red shirted. "I still have four years left in this system. What could be better?" Maybe getting his name painted next to his brother's on the facing of Shank Pavilion?