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Military ethos vs. Individual honor: The Naval Academy's Heisman conundrum

Aug. 27, 2014 - 01:28PM   |  
Army Navy Football MWM 20131214
Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds carries the ball against Army during last year's Army-Navy game. (Mike Morones/Staff)
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ANNAPOLIS, MD. — Allow Roger Staubach to, rather unofficially, carry the torch for Keenan Reynolds' 2014 Heisman campaign. From one Navy great to another.

"He should be in that conversation," Staubach told USA TODAY Sports. "Keenan, as an athlete and as a quarterback, should be looked at as one of the best in the country."

If Reynolds were to win it, he'd be the first player from a service academy since Staubach (1963) to win the award. Staubach, who went on to win two Super Bowls in the NFL following his years of service, likes what he sees out of Navy's dual-threat quarterback. He thinks all this talk about Reynolds as a dark horse Heisman contender is warranted.

That's what makes a Heisman campaign difficult — or rather, officially nonexistent.

"It's definitely team-first here, and that's the military, too," said Scott Strasemeier, Navy's senior associate athletic director for sports information. "There's no individual that's more important than anyone else."

So, don't expect to see any school-sponsored websites touting Reynolds as a Heisman candidate, or giveaways at games suggesting the same. The cover of the football team's media guide features the program's two senior captains, Noah Copeland and Parrish Gaines, not its junior quarterback. Same with other promotional items, like posters.

That's the way everyone at Navy — Reynolds included — wants it.

"It'll take care of itself, if he's even in the running," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. "If he has a year like last year or even better, which allows us to win games, that will take care of itself. That's the way I've approached it. You could market him and put out buttons and videos and stuff like that, but you have to produce. We have to win. It would take a very special year for us, coming from the Naval Academy, to do that.

"Obviously, I think he's talented enough. This is as good a football team as we've had. But you've got to produce on the field."

A year like last year certainly would keep Reynolds in the discussion. Reynolds accounted for 2,403 yards of total offense, and 39 touchdowns while leading Navy to a 9-4 record. He set an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (31) and the single-game record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (seven, in a triple-overtime win over San Jose State).

Those and the San Jose State game in particular put Reynolds on the map. He and the Midshipmen begin 2014 against perhaps their most challenging opponent.

Navy opens the season on Saturday in Baltimore against No. 6 Ohio State (without its Heisman candidate, Braxton Miller), and plays No. 17 Notre Dame on Nov. 1. Exposure will be there; all of Navy's games this season will be nationally televised or available to stream on ESPN3.

"He's got that momentum," Staubach said. "The way you keep it going? You have to play your guts out against and possibly beat Ohio State. It can take care of itself if the team is really successful. … You're going to be staying in the news if you keep winning. A lot of that has to do with Keenan. If we play Ohio State like we did a couple of years ago — we almost beat them (in 2009) — I think people will keep their eye on Keenan, and he'll definitely have a chance at the Heisman."

If all goes according to Staubach's plan and Reynolds remains in the Heisman race, Reynolds will run into a bit of a scheduling conflict. On the same day finalists will be expected to be in New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, the MIdshipmen will be busy playing in the Army-Navy game. It's funny and fitting for the candidate — and school — that isn't going to play this up.

"If Keenan is fortunate enough to be one of the finalists, we'll figure out a way after the Army-Navy game either by satellite or take a quick helicopter ride up there," Strasemeier said.

But those at Navy aren't getting too far ahead of themselves. Neither is Reynolds, who deflects much of the attention he gets — and plans on continuing to do just that.

"I just keep giving it to the team," Reynolds said. "It's not an act. It's not a, 'Let me put on a show for the people who are asking me questions.' Those guys really are the reason. In the option offense, if there's one missed block or one missed assignment, the whole play fails. We have to be perfect. … Those 10 guys I play with are as sharp as it gets.

"They're the heart of the team. I'm just a guy playing quarterback."

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