Regardless of where you go to high school, if you do so across the Ohio River in the Bluegrass State there's a strong push for you to continue your collegiate career in Kentucky. Particularly if you're an athlete.
While that might not be a popular statement, that's been my feeling after cover years of years of sports and attending prep events at various Northern Kentucky schools. Sure, UC might be 30 minutes away across the bridge, but at times that bridge has felt like a wall.
Covering numerous Kentucky state championships involving Boone County, Highlands, Beechwood, Covington Catholic and Newport Central Catholic, I can tell you that those boys are brought up looking to continue their careers at UK or Louisville. Plus, Louisville has always had an "in" as the host of those title games.
However, things have changed...a bit. Nearly a decade ago, Gino Guidugli originally committed to play at Kentucky (I was at the press conference) even though his fellow former Highlands quarterback Jared Lorenzen was already there (I was at his press conference too). Then, Hal Mumme had some NCAA issues and suddenly Gino was coming to UC.
Not that he was the first, or the last, but suddenly playing at a venue that was easier for your family to get to (albeit across the water) became popular. Others also came around this period--Kirt Doolin, Jeff Reinstatler, Adam Wulfeck, Doug Jones, etc.
Now, the northern Kentucky football fields are fertile ground for recruits and are being mined not only by Kentucky and Louisville, but by the Cincinnati Bearcats.
That brings us to Ben Guidugli, the Bearcat tight end that is no longer looked at as, "Gino's brother".
However Ben, like many of the Kentucky prepsters, faced the same in-state pressures. In his case, like Gino's, everything worked out for the best, but this week's opponent holds some special meaning for him.
"They recruited me but I didn't get an offer from them," said Guidugli of the Louisville Cardinals. "They wanted me to play defense."
Of course, Ben didn't help matters by recording an interception and a fumble recovery in one of his two trips to Louisville with the Highlands Bluebirds out of Fort Thomas. But, he wanted to play offense and the offer never came.
"There's a little chip on my shoulder, definitely," answered Guidugli about U of L snub. "In-state guy. Didn't get the offer from them. That chip's always on my shoulder when I play Louisville."
However, a UC offer came from Mark Dantonio, and now Ben Guidugli despises the 'Ville just like all good Bearcats. Still, he embraces the chance to return there every now and then as he's had success at the prep and college level on that field.
"Going back to Papa John's Stadium, I won a state championship there," said Guidugli. "I won one my junior year, my sophomore year we lost. Going back to Kentucky--it's a big deal for me."
It's also a big deal for the Guidugli family who have followed all four Guidugli brothers on the gridiron. Friday evening as you head south, it's a good chance you'll be driving next to someone related to a Guidugli. Odds are, they will have received their tickets by way of Ben.
"I've been asking guys on the team for tickets," said a grinning Guidugli. "Hopefully, I can come up with 10 or 15 extra."
As for the Keg of Nails game, it's the beginning of the Big East and it's a game both schools desperately need. Guidugli's hoping that a healthy offense will propel UC back to where they've been the past two years.
"I feel like it's up in the air and whoever wants it is going to take it," said Guidugli. "If we're the hungriest team, we should take it."
One thing's for sure, Guidugli IS HUNGRY. Missing a game and watching his understudy score a touchdown was difficult. Missing the toughest opponent of the year (Oklahoma) made it even worse. Plus early on, the tight end position was not being focused on offensively.
All of the above led to great frustration.
"It felt good to just get back in the game after missing that Oklahoma game," said Guidugli. "Doing all that rehab and all that stuff, to finally get back out there felt so good. To block somebody, to catch a ball, to just get back into the offense--I wasn't really finding my niche in the offense the first few games--it felt good to get back in there."
The key stat in the Miami game for Guidugli was the ankle checked out fine. Scoring has a funny way of healing players too. Guidugli hopes to avoid the training room from here on out.
"That was the first time I've ever been hurt as far as high school and college where I missed a game," said Guidugli. "I was definitely not used to that and it was definitely hard for me, mentally more than physically."
There are many popular sayings that can explain how Ben Guidugli feels. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder" comes to mind. "You don't realize what you have until it's gone," is another.
Be it those, or the fact that Bobby Petrino "dissed" him years ago, a revenge-seeking Guidugli is not something any "red bird" wants to deal with.