By Kyle Kensing, CFBHuddle.com
San Jose State defenders hesitated as Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds faked a pitch to Darius Staten. It was flawless execution of the Midshipmen’s signature, triple-option offense.
A block down the field left nothing but daylight ahead of Reynolds, and he scampered 25 yards to cap a wild, 58-52 Navy win in triple-overtime.
“That’s a testament to our offense and production as a team,” Reynolds said of the Mids’ historic night.
The game-winner was Reynolds’ eighth touchdown of the contest and seventh via the rush. He said on the cross-country trip from San Jose back to Annapolis, Maryland, the magnitude of his performance hit him.
“On the plane ride, it kind of dawned on me that I’d scored every touchdown,” he said. “I’d never done that in middle school or Pee Wee [League]. That’s the most I’ve ever scored.”
No one in NCAA history can say they scored as many rushing touchdowns in one game, either.
And no other Football Bowl Subdivision quarterback can stake claim to 31 rushing touchdowns in a single season, as Reynolds can.
In Navy’s next outing, its annual rivalry encounter with Army, Reynolds surpassed former Kansas State standout Collin Klein and Navy alum Ricky Dobbs to break the record with touchdown No. 28.
He tacked on one more against the Cadets for good measure, then added two in the Armed Forces Bowl win over Middle Tennessee State.
The single-season record was a goal Reynolds said he set for himself, but had “lost track” of his progress during the season’s course. It wasn’t until the San Jose State trip and those seven rushing touchdowns that the mark was in sight.
“I definitely didn’t expect that,” he said.
Presumably, neither did the national television audience tuned in on ESPN. The Mids and Spartans commanded the football spotlight in the only game that late-November Friday night, and Reynolds delivered a star performance that has brought him attention since.
“The biggest mistake you can make is starting to believe your own hype.”
In the wake of his record-setting campaign, accolades are making their way to Reynolds. Preseason Heisman Trophy watch lists, such as Chris Huston’s via HeismanPundit.com, include his name.
“It’s a big deal and I’m definitely grateful to be [mentioned] in the presence of great athletes who have won the Heisman like Jameis Winston and others who are going to be first-round [NFL] draft picks,” he said.
With 39 total touchdowns, Reynolds was not far behind Winston, the Florida State quarterback who claimed the award in 2013 with 44 scores—albeit in one game more than Reynolds and Navy played.
Certainly he’s a dark horse for the most prestigious individual award in college football. Voters follow a pattern that does not have room for players beyond the cast of power-conference programs.
The last Heisman recipient outside of one of those five leagues was Ty Detmer in 1990. The last service academy player to hoist the Heisman was Navy quarterback Roger Staubach in 1963.
Still, even being suggested for the award is an honor in and of itself for Reynolds. He called it “very humbling,” but added his focus is elsewhere as the 2014 season approaches.
“My concern is Ohio State. All that matters is Aug. 30,” he said.
Aug. 30 is when the Mids kickoff the 2014 season against Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes, a team expected to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
The date is the second half of a series first played in 2009. Behind Dobbs’ four touchdowns that September afternoon, the Mids took the Buckeyes to the brink.
Ohio State escaped with a 31-27 victory, but Navy’s performance—and especially that of Dobbs--left an impression on Reynolds.
“Even before I knew about Navy football, I watched the Ohio State game in 2009, so I knew the legacy [Dobbs] had left,” Reynolds said. “He’s on the flyer they send out [to recruits].”
Since setting the rushing touchdown record, Reynolds is well on his way to establishing his own Navy legacy—another goal he said he set for himself.
“I wanted to do some great things with special guys that other people here haven’t been able to do,” he said.
Upsetting a juggernaut such as Ohio State would certainly qualify. And he’ll have had almost eight months to focus on it by the time the Buckeyes and Mids kickoff in Baltimore.
“Jan. 1,” Reynolds said is when the team turned attention to Ohio State, just two days after the Armed Forces Bowl. “As soon as the new year started…[the team discussion] was ‘we have Ohio State next year.’”
Navy’s months of preparation for a likely Top 10-ranked opponent are not being invested in simply putting up a good fight.
Reynolds described an attitude at Navy that certainly applies to the Ohio State matchup.
“Every Saturday, we got out to play and win,” he said. “We’re not there to survive. We’re there to win.”
Playing with the Buckeyes, winners of 24 games combined in the past two seasons, is certainly a challenge. But then, playing football, being a student and working toward commission as an officer at the Naval Academy is about routinely overcoming challenges.
A decision for “20-30 years down the road”
Coming out of Madison, Tennessee’s Goodpasture Christian School, recruiting feelers came Reynolds’ way. Navy was one suitor that offered him an opportunity to play his prep position, quarterback.
But Mids head coach Ken Niumatalolo could also offer an opportunity for Reynolds to start as freshman. Navy replaced Kriss Proctor after the 2011 season, opening a competition Reynolds won by the Mids' Week 5 game against Central Michigan. Prior, he traveled for the 2012 season opener in Dublin, Ireland, against Notre Dame, his first exposure to the college game.
“That was a big opportunity, to go to another country to play a game,” he said.
Opportunity defines Reynolds’ decision to enroll at the Naval Academy. The student-athlete experience in Annapolis is unique, as he explained.
“The midshipman life [compared] to the normal college student life,” he said. “It’s a complete 180.”
And for Navy football players, the process can be even more demanding.
“Everyone, for the most part, is allotted four weeks of leave. [Football players] take one or two,” he said. “The rest of the time we’re training up in Annapolis. We sacrifice most of our summer.
“But that’s something we knew coming into the Naval Academy, joining the military,” he added. “We were going to have to be part of the structured lifestyle to better prepare ourselves to be Naval officers.”
Receiving commission as either a naval or Marine Corps officer is an opportunity Reynolds said goes beyond what he does on the football field.
“There are so many great things that come from graduating from the Naval Academy,” he said. “I even had a coach recruiting me to a different school tell me, ‘you’d be dumb not to take [the Navy] offer.’
“’Make this decision for 20-30 years down the road, not five years down the road.’”
Much like his game-winning touchdown rush to beat San Jose State in triple-overtime that late-November night, there’s daylight ahead for Keenan Reynolds—20 years down the road, or simply in the upcoming football season.