What Navy freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds has accomplished the past two weeks has impressed some of his coaches and teammates in Annapolis to the point of astonishment.
Reynolds became the first plebe to start at quarterback for the Midshipmen in 21 years Friday at Central Michigan. In leading Navy to a 31-13 victory, Reynolds became the first quarterback at the academy to throw three touchdown passes in a game since Chris McCoy did it in 1997 — as a senior.
His heroics came a week after he replaced an injured Trey Miller in the fourth quarter at Air Force, bringing Navy (3-3) back from a 21-13 deficit in the final nine minutes of regulation to a 28-21 overtime victory with a pair of touchdown drives, including a 15-yard touchdown run.
"Every time the guy goes out there, he amazes you," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said after practice Monday, in announcing that Reynolds will remain the starter for Saturday's homecoming game against Indiana (2-4).
Asked if he is surprised at how well he has played, Reynolds said, "I just expected to come out and do my best, do my job for my teammates and I would let the rest take care of itself. Just focus on what we did at practice, reading my assignments and doing my job."
Back in Antioch, Tenn., outside Nashville, those who followed what Reynolds did in four years as a starter at Goodpasture Christian School aren't shocked either.
"The charisma he has, the leadership skills he has, the magnetism for drawing in others and making them better, the physical ability is all a big part of a package that makes him an incredible young man," said longtime Goodpasture coach David Martin. "Am I surprised he's starting? Absolutely not."
For good reason. Martin had never started a freshman at quarterback in 35 years of coaching high school football and 17 years at Goodpasture when Reynolds arrived at the small, private school four years ago. Martin didn't think he would then, as he had a senior incumbent in place to start.
Reynolds quickly changed Martin's mind, and the senior was moved to tailback.
"In his high school career, he never missed a practice, he never missed a play [when the game was on the line]," Martin said of Reynolds. "When we needed him, he was always there."
Reynolds was chosen to play in the state's All-Star game as a senior, but he was used more as a slot receiver in that game. Vanderbilt recruited him to play slot receiver. Georgia Tech made overtures to give him preferred walk-on status or wait to see if any scholarships were left.
It came down to Navy and Air Force.
"Coach [Niumatalolo] never told Keenan he was going to be a starter, he only said he would give him an opportunity to play," Donnie Reynolds recalled about his son's recruitment. "[Navy offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ivin] Jasper is straightforward. I told Keenan that he might not like what Coach Jasper has to say, but you're not going to be lied to."
Ever since they recruited him, Niumatalolo and Jasper compared Reynolds to former Navy star Ricky Dobbs, who started one game as a sophomore and didn't become a fulltime starter until his junior year. The past two weeks have only served to solidify that comparison.
"I think that when Ricky came in [to start against Northern Illinois], if we didn't put him, in we wouldn't have seen how special he was," Niumatalolo said. "People rallied around Ricky and have done the same thing with Keenan. There's some composure on the field that has given the guys some confidence."
The elder Reynolds said that his son's poise is something that he has seen for a long time, on and off the field. Donnie Reynolds said his son does not get his unflappable nature from him, but from his late father and his father-in-law.
"My daddy was always even keel, and my wife's dad is the same way," Donnie Reynolds said. "Keenan's never rattled. I will try to talk my way out of a situation, Keenan never says anything. He does what's supposed to be done."
For Niumatalolo and Jasper, the most surprising aspect of Reynolds' emergence is the fact that Navy is back to running the true triple option, perhaps for the first time since Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada graduated in 2008. Despite his success, even Dobbs didn't run the full package.
"We're doing everything, and I can't remember somebody we've able to do that with," Niumatalolo said. "We've been able to run our offense without any restrictions, and that's definitely a luxury. Ricky won 19 games as a starter, but there were some things we had to do to help out."
Donnie Reynolds said he helped teach his son to prepare for games by watching film with him while he was still in middle school. Keenan was told "to put his mind into the defensive coordinator's head" to understand how the other team was trying to stop him.
"Football at the college level is how you break down a team. ... Everybody has athletes, everybody can run fast," said the elder Reynolds, who played safety at the University of Tennessee-Martin. "I used to tell him, 'As a junior, you have to play like you're a senior in high school. As a senior, you have to play like a freshman in college.'"
Keenan Reynolds spent his last spring break in high school in Annapolis, watching the Midshipmen practice. Donnie Reynolds recalled his son calling him one summer day to tell him how much tougher Niumatalolo and Jasper had become since they recruited him.
"I told him being a recruit is like trying to get a date to the prom and once they get you to the prom, it's a different story," Donnie Reynolds said. "I knew that it was going to be a plus, because once he got there [for summer camp], there wasn't going to be a big learning curve."
The curve has certainly been shortened, but Reynolds has grown in stature in other ways. Initially listed incorrectly at 5-9, 170 pounds, which would have made him among the smallest quarterbacks in at a Football Bowl Subdivision school, Reynolds is now listed at 5-11, 199 pounds.
"I think I'm closer to 185," Reynolds said after practice Monday.
Told about the comparisons to Dobbs, Martin said that "if Keenan stays healthy, they will have the next Ricky Dobbs. They might even forget about Ricky Dobbs."
That seems unlikely, but Reynolds is certainly starting to make an impact on the Navy program.
Even his father, who has been to every game except the opener against Notre Dame in Dublin, was "impressed."
But not surprised.
"I always knew the kid could play," Donnie Reynolds said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun