Toledo defensive tackle Treyvon Hester, right, chases Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds during a game in October. Reynolds has enjoyed a sensational sophomore season, running for 1,124 yards and 26 touchdowns. (David Richard/AP)
ANNAPOLIS, Md. In just two seasons at the Naval Academy, Keenan Reynolds has already earned a reputation for exuding confidence and poise in pressure-filled situations.
The quarterback first displayed this quality as a freshman, when he came off the bench late in the second half to rally Navy past Air Force.
That, however, didn’t help calm Reynolds’ nerves before his first Army-Navy game last December.
“Oh yeah, I was very anxious coming out and being in that atmosphere,” Reynolds recalled. “I’d never played in an NFL stadium before and it was packed and wild. It was definitely a different feeling, but once I got a couple drives under my belt I realized it was just a game and settled down.”
On Saturday, Reynolds will face Army for the second time. The focus, of course, is to lead the Midshipmen to a victory over their most bitter rival and claim the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy, awarded annually to the team with the best record in games involving the three major service academies.
But Reynolds can also put his name in the NCAA record book — again. He has 26 rushing touchdowns, one short of the single-season mark for a quarterback, shared by former Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs and former Kansas State standout Collin Klein (2011). Reynolds passed Tim Tebow on the list with his unprecedented seven-touchdown performance at San Jose State on Nov. 22.
“It’s definitely a blessing to be mentioned in the same breath with Ricky Dobbs and Collin Klein and the other guys on the list,” Reynolds said. “It’s kind of a surreal feeling, you could say. Coming into the game, I’m not really concerned about the record. If I break it, I break it. If I don’t, I don’t. I’m just worried about getting the W.”
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo calls the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Reynolds “as good a quarterback as I’ve been around in option football.” That’s saying something, considering Niumatalolo was at Navy during the record-setting careers of Chris McCoy (1995-97) and Dobbs (2008-2010).
“Chris McCoy and Ricky Dobbs are the best quarterbacks I’ve been around and Keenan’s right there with them,” Niumatalolo said. “Some guys don’t want to say stuff like that about a sophomore, but I’m just calling a spade a spade. The kid is one heck of a quarterback. He has proven it over and over again.”
Reynolds was exceptional as a plebe, rushing for 649 yards and 10 touchdowns while passing for 898 yards and nine scores despite not starting four games. There has been no sophomore slump for the Tennessee native, who enters Saturday’s game with 1,124 rushing yards and 1,028 passing yards. He is only the fourth quarterback in school history to surpass 1,000 yards on the ground and through the air, joining Dobbs (2009), Craig Candeto (2003) and McCoy (1997).
“Keenan has been really consistent and played some good football,” Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. “He’s a smart football player who understands the game and just knows how to play.”
Jasper, who coaches the Navy quarterbacks, is most pleased that Reynolds has become so adept at reading the defense at the line of scrimmage and changing plays.
“Keenan has done a lot of good things in terms of checking us into the right play. That’s a real credit to him,” Jasper said. “The kid studies hard and understands what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Reynolds is a big reason why Navy owns a 7-4 record. Never satisfied, Niumatalolo is challenging the young quarterback to add to his growing legacy.
“At this place, you’re remembered for Air Force and Army. Keenan recognizes that he’s got the biggest game of the season coming up,” Niumatalolo said. “The barometer of a Navy quarterback is how you play in those two games. So his story isn’t over yet. Let’s hope this next chapter is a good one. I think it will be.”