Quarterbacks Trent Steelman and Keenan Reynolds will come into Saturday's Army-Navy game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia from nearly opposite directions.
The 113th meeting between the service academies will be Steelman's last game in a collegiate career in which he set Army records for rushing touchdowns (44) and consecutive starts (32), but led the Black Knights to only one winning season (7-6 in 2010).
It will mark the seventh career start for Reynolds. The first Navy quarterback to start a game as a freshman in more than two decades, Reynolds has accounted for 17 touchdowns (eight passing) and helped the Midshipmen win six of their last seven games since taking over in early October.
Despite playing in his first game against Army, the preternaturally mature Reynolds understands what's at stake. Navy (7-4) will be trying to beat Army (2-9) for an 11th consecutive year and return the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy to Annapolis for the first time since 2009.
"I would say, if anything, it's motivation for me to continue the streak and to allow that 10-year legacy to continue and stretch it out as long as I'm here," Reynolds said. "I wouldn't call it added pressure, but it's year to year and you can't rely on what you did in the past. If you show up and think they will lay down, they'll beat you."
Steelman is taking a different approach to Saturday's game than he has to many, if not all, of his previous 45 college starts.
"The pressure is always on the QBs to come out and perform your best, in a game like this, in an offense like this where so much revolves around the quarterback," he said. "But at the same time, the pressure's off. It's my last game, I have nothing to lose. I just have to go out and do my best, as I've always done."
If anyone knows what Reynolds will feel when he steps on a field in front of more than 68,000 fans, it is Steelman, who did the same thing as a freshman in the same stadium. Admittedly, Steelman doesn't remember much from a 17-3 defeat in 2009 in which he accounted for less than 100 total yards.
"To be honest, it was like a huge blur," Steelman said."I can only imagine what he's going to go through. There's so much on the line, it's hard to go out and perform like you can because of all the emotions and being in a stadium like this."
Yet Reynolds might have more experience than Steelman did three years ago, in terms of playing in front of big crowds and on national television. Reynolds will certainly have a better team surrounding him, too.
Reynolds played in the fourth quarter of a 50-10 season-opening loss to Notre Dame in Dublin, Ireland; led Navy to its only scoring drive in a 34-7 defeat at Penn State two weeks later; and then brought the Midshipmen back from an eight-point, fourth-quarter deficit in a season-changing 28-21 overtime win at Air Force in early October.
"I try to approach it like another game, like a Penn State or an Air Force," Reynolds said of facing Army. "I try not to let the external features get to me, the only thing that really matters is what goes on between the white lines. You can't really let the crowd noise or the hype leading up to the game get to you."
It was after the Oct. 6 win over the Falcons that Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo decided to start Reynolds in place of junior Trey Miller, who had left the Air Force game with an ankle injury. The Midshipmen had started 1-3 behind a turnover-prone Miller and were looking at the possibility of a second straight losing season.
"He's been in some tough situations — the Air Force situation I put him into was probably as tough as you can be in — and I thought he responded well," Niumatalolo said of Reynolds. "This is going to be a very similar deal, but he has responded well to everything he's been entrusted with, and I hope he's going to do the same [against Army]. I have great confidence in him. He's special."
But the Army game can be different. Longtime offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper remembers when Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada started against Army as a sophomore in 2006 and struggled.
"He was a very laid-back kid, like Keenan is, as cool as the other side of the pillow kind of guy all year, but he got to the Army game and he didn't play very well, and he told me afterwards, 'Coach, I was so nervous,'" Jasper recalled earlier this week. "I would never know by the way he carried himself."
As for Reynolds, who won his first four starts, Jasper said he hasn't "shown any difference in his composure this week." Senior wide receiver Brandon Turner said that Reynolds, if anything, "has definitely been on point, been a little sharper with detail, which is always good to see."
Reynolds impressed the Navy coaches this summer with how quickly he picked up the triple-option, then he won the respect of his teammates with his quiet confidence and overwhelmed more than a few opponents with his ability to make big plays.
Steelman has achieved a considerable amount individually, including breaking a school record for rushing touchdowns set nearly 70 years ago by the legendary Glenn Davis. But in his career, Army has gone to one bowl game — beating SMU in 2010 — and only came close to beating the Midshipmen once (last year's 27-21 loss at FedEx Field in Landover).
"We know we've been capable of achieving big things and there has always been one or two things in a game, or outside a game that's held us back," Steelman said. "At the same time, we're here now, we know what's at stake and we're just ready to play."
Steelman said he sees himself as a different player — and person — than he was when he started against Navy as a freshman.
"The biggest thing in terms of my growth is as a leader," he said. "Coming in as a freshman, I didn't know what to expect to step on the field with all upperclassmen at a school where rank and grade means everything. It was hard to establish a foundation to lead this team the right way, but now everybody looks to me. Everybody looks to you in times of adversity and sees how you're going to handle it."
Reynolds first saw Steelman play last year when the Black Knights visited Vanderbilt, where Reynolds was being recruited by first-year Commodores coach James Franklin as a slot receiver. Reynolds doesn't recall much except that Army was blown out and Steelman got hurt.
Though Reynolds had never heard of the legendary Davis — "Mr. Outside" to Doc Blanchard's "Mr. Inside" — and was not aware until informed by a reporter that Steelman had started nearly every game since the season opener of his freshman year, Reynolds knew that Steelman "has done some great things at Army."
"I just want to do my job here," Reynolds said. "I want to take care of business and win games. I'm not concerned with stats or records."
Steelman has watched a lot more of Navy's defense than he has of Reynolds, but he has seen enough of the freshman to know that "he's going to be a great quarterback."
Asked if he would offer Reynolds any advice heading into his first Army-Navy game, Steelman said, "I would say, 'Live in the moment.' Not every day that you get the opportunity to play as a freshman and start in a game like this."