Despite lifetime of trauma, Ken-Yon Rambo has become top threat at OSU.
If you want to know what makes Ken-Yon Rambo an outstanding flanker, look at his feet. The Ohio State senior has some of the quickest in the Big Ten, perhaps in the nation.
Those feet will draw most of the attention when Ohio State plays South Carolina in Monday's Outback Bowl.
But if you want to know about the 22-year-old, you will learn a great deal more from his arms. Or, rather, the tattoos that cover them.
Rambo is a mama's boy. It says so on his right forearm, where his mother's name, Juanita, is inscribed.
He has been burned by relationships. The dragon and rose (symbolizing "fear" and "love") inked on his left forearm attest to that.
But most of all, he is a survivor. You can tell from the bullet hole under his left arm, just above a tattoo that bears his last name.
Rambo, a native of Cerritos, Calif., was shot before his senior year in high school. He was running an errand for his mother when he was approached by two men he thought wanted to steal his car.
A bullet crashed through Rambo's driver's side window and pierced the skin under his left arm. It slid around to his back, stopping 3 inches from his spine.
Rambo slammed on the gas pedal and drove to a nearby supermarket, where he told a group of construction workers what had happened. He was taken to a hospital and released the next day.
"It was 3 inches from my spine," he said. "It would have been all over. I wouldn't be here right now, I'll tell you that. If it would have hit my spinal cord, I'd be paralyzed."
Rambo, named for an African warrior, showed the heart of his namesake by overcoming the gunshot wound to earn USA Today and Parade All-America honors as a senior.
He was regarded by many as the top wide receiver in the country after he caught a school-record 79 passes for 1,096 yards and 17 touchdowns at Long Beach Poly.
He was hailed as the next in a line of outstanding Ohio State receivers that includes Cris Carter, Joey Galloway and David Boston.
His college career, however, nearly ended before it began.
Rambo faced a possible suspension or revocation of his scholarship after a fight outside an off-campus restaurant, and the discovery of a small amount of marijuana in his pocket, resulted in his arrest early in his freshman year.
He was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and drug abuse, all misdemeanors. He paid a small fine and was put on probation.
He said newspaper and television reports blew the incident out of proportion. But he acknowledged that it taught him an important lesson: There is a world of difference between Cerritos and Columbus, Ohio.
"The spotlight is going to happen," he said. "You've got to be more mature about the situation and watch what you're doing. You can't do everything."
Rambo played behind Boston and Dee Miller his first two seasons before breaking into the starting lineup as a junior. He caught 41 passes for a team-high 833 yards and six touchdowns.
Named a co-captain for his senior season, Rambo led Ohio State with 51 catches for 729 yards and two touchdowns. He was an honorable mention all-Big Ten selection for the second straight season.
"Ohio State is not committed to their passing game, so his statistics may not be as impressive as some other receivers," South Carolina coach Lou Holtz said. "But I promise you, he scares you as much as any receiver we've gone up against."
Rambo enters the Outback Bowl with 104 career receptions. He needs four to catch Galloway and Billy Anders for sixth-most in team history.
His task will be complicated by the absence of split end Reggie Germany, who is academically ineligible, and by flanker Chad Cacchio's shoulder injury.
"We have a lot of good wide receivers," Ohio State coach John Cooper said. "Sure, we're going to miss Reggie Germany, there's no question about that. That is an opportunity for somebody else to step up."
Much of the responsibility for carrying Ohio State's passing game will fall upon Rambo, despite the fact that he will be playing with a hairline fracture of his left hand.
But Rambo practiced Tuesday and Wednesday at the University of Tampa and does not expect the injury to affect him.
"Nothing will hold me back for the game," he said. "I'm going to go out like I've been playing the whole season."
A speedy receiver with soft hands and exceptional route-running abilities, the 6-1, 190-pound Rambo could be taken in the first round of the NFL draft in April. His first priority after the draft will be to move his parents out of Cerritos.
"They've been taking care of me for years since I've been born," Rambo said. "There isn't anything to do but take care of your parents, getting them whatever they want and then take care of yourself."
(TEXT FOR LOU HOLTZ QUOTE NOT PROVIDED FOR ELECTRONIC LIBRARY, PLEASE SEE MICROFILM.