He had a catchy name and was so fast that the Buckeyes coaching staff couldn't wait to design plays that would put the ball in his hands. He had scrapbooks full of newspaper clippings and testimonials that all pointed to him being the next Cris Carter.
Rambo never caught up with his rep. He will likely go in the first round of the NFL draft in April. But as he prepares for Ohio State's Outback Bowl game against South Carolina, he will be remembered as little more than a solid contributor on teams that, perhaps like him, never lived up to their promise.
"It went real quick, real quick _ in the blink of an eye," Rambo said of his college career.
As a high school senior in Cerritos, Calif., Rambo caught 79 passes for 1,096 yards and 17 touchdowns in 13 games and was a first-team All-America selection by USA Today.
He spent the first two seasons at Ohio State unable to beat out the holdovers at the wideout spots, David Boston and Dee Miller. Finally getting a chance to play full time a year ago, he caught 41 passes for 833 yards and six touchdowns while the Buckeyes struggled through a 6-6 season.
Voted a team captain prior to this season, he responded with 51 catches for 729 yards and two touchdowns.
The numbers don't tell the whole story. Rambo still has breathtaking speed in the low 4-second realm in the 40-yard dash. He has good hands and runs good routes. But his two seasons as a starter have also been a development period for quarterback Steve Bellisari, who has proven he can toss a long bomb occasionally but has been sporadic on most other passes.
"Maybe Ken-Yon hasn't had the stats on the field, but he can look back and be proud," Ohio State coach John Cooper said. "He'll play in his third January 1st bowl game. He was voted a team captain. He'll have a chance to play at the next level. And he's in good standing academically to get his degree.
"You can look back and say he's had a pretty solid career."
Rambo says he doesn't regret trekking across the country to come to Ohio State instead of staying near home to accept offers to play at Southern Cal or UCLA.
"This was the best decision I think I've made in my life _ going off and venturing by myself, playing for a powerhouse football team, a great educational school," he said. "I learned things on and off the field. It helped me a lot."
Among the things he learned was to stay out of bad situations. He was arrested his freshman year at a fight at an off-campus restaurant. A small amount of marijuana was found in his pocket. He paid a small fine and was put on probation _ and never got into any trouble again.
Asked what he learned from that problem, he said, "When you do things like that you learn not to do them again. Like I say, you learn things on and off the field. That's one of the things I learned. Like, responsibilities, like paying bills and getting to things on time _ little things."
Rambo said he wasn't bothered by not living up to the hype that surrounded him when he came to Ohio State.
"I'm cool with that. We had a 9-3 season. As long as we have a winning season and go to a bowl game _ a good bowl game _ it doesn't matter to me. Contributing to the team, that's all I want to do," he said.
Ohio State has an 8-3 record. Rambo was asked if he was already counting the Outback Bowl as a win.
"Is our record 9-2? Oh, 8-3. I don't know what it is. I'm sorry," he said with a laugh.
Rambo has been wearing a cast this week because of a hairline fracture of his left hand. Cooper said he would most likely be able to play.
Rambo wants his last game to be memorable.
"I want to go out with a bang," he said. "Everybody wants to have a great game. Which I want to do and the whole team wants to do. This is the last game. What else you going to hold back?"