Quarterback Keenan Reynolds was the center of attention during Navy football's Media Day-Fan Fest, and for good reason.
Reynolds was nothing short of sensational as a sophomore, amassing 2,403 yards of total offense and accounting for 39 touchdowns in leading Navy to a 9-4 record and victory in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.
The Tennessee native set an NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 31 and broke the Navy single-season scoring record (188 points) that had stood since 1917. He also set the single-game record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with seven in Navy's triple-overtime win over San Jose State.
"It is comforting to have a proven, experienced quarterback. Keenan has been under fire, been in a lot of big ballgames and won a ton of games," Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said during Saturday. "More importantly, Keenan is a guy that's been leading by example. He comes to work every day and tries to get better."
As soon as he stepped on the field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium Saturday, Reynolds was mobbed by fans, both young and old, who wanted an autograph or a picture. He graciously handled every request — signing footballs and memorabilia for awed youngsters, holding babies and posing for photos with grown men.
Navy offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper watched the scene and just shook his head. Like any football coach, Jasper worries whether the attention will affect Reynolds' focus.
"The scary thing is all the attention he's getting, all the accolades," Jasper said. "Keenan needs to stay humble. ... "Keenan's a very mature kid who has been raised the right way. He said to me 'Coach, you don't have to worry about all that stuff. I block all that out,'" Jasper said. "It's all about playing the game. He has to play for the guys who are blocking for him and catching the ball from him."
Jasper said humility is his byword for the season when it comes to Reynolds, who has been mentioned as a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior will have a chance to make a statement when Navy opens at M&T Bank Stadium against perennial powerhouse Ohio State, which has a leading Heisman candidate in quarterback Braxton Miller.
Reynolds is the first quarterback of the triple-option era to start as a freshman and so extensive are his accomplishments in just two seasons his biography takes up 41/2 pages in the Navy media guide. Perhaps the most notable statistic is Reynolds' 15-6 record as a starter, and that does not include the come-from-behind victory over Air Force that he engineered as a freshman.
He needs just eight more rushing touchdowns to become Navy's all-time leader in that category.
"I didn't come into last season to break any records. I came in with the mindset of winning as many games as possible," Reynolds said. "Winning is always my first priority, and if I break a few records along the way then so be it."
Reynolds said he does not need outside motivation or to be pushed by coaches, but that Jasper knew wish buttons to push.
"I've always been a perfectionist. If it's not perfect, it's not good enough for me," he said. "I know that I made numerous mistakes last year. There were times when I would watch film and kick myself and say 'what were you thinking?' Times when I missed a guy running wide open or made the wrong read on the option. Those types of things really bother me."
Reynolds' focus in preseason camp will be on making smart decisions, especially in the passing game.
"He still makes stupid mistakes every now and then," Jasper said. "It happened yesterday in practice. He made a throw and I was like 'what were you looking at?' He understands that he needs to play smart and take care of the football."
Jasper has praised Reynolds's intelligence and said he "eats, sleeps and breathes football." Jasper, whose knowledge of the triple-option offense ranks second only to his mentor, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, likes that Reynolds remains eager to learn.
"Keenan understands that he has a lot more to learn," Jasper said. "He wants to know the offense inside and out. Basically, he wants to think like I think."
Reynolds said the only pressure he feels, the only expectations that matter, come from his teammates and coaches. He has no intention of resting on the laurels from 2013.
"I don't ever worry about getting complacent or trying to live up to what I did last year. I just want to help my team win games and the rest will take care of itself," he said. That is something my dad instilled in me early on. I never want to allow myself to complacent."