The roots of Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds' development in running out of his team's triple-option offense go back to his own roots outside Nashville, Tenn.
On a hot summer day when Reynolds was about 13, he joined his uncle and a group of older athletes Andrew Reynolds was training for a high school track team he coached.
"I wasn't sure what to expect, but I'll just say I couldn't finish it," Keenan Reynolds recalled this week. "I was hyperventilating. He didn't take it easy because it was my first time out. He treated me like I was a seasoned vet out there. It was really bad. We were doing hill workouts on one of the toughest hills in Nashville. It was a struggle."
The training eventually got a little easier for Reynolds, but not much more fun.
"I hated going because it was by far the hardest workouts I had ever done," said Reynolds, who still works out with his uncle when he returns home. "He really developed my explosiveness and being able to have a quicker start. My mechanics, my technique, my stamina, everything got better when I was working with him. It really got the ball rolling."
Going into Saturday's game against South Alabama at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Reynolds is coming off one of his best performances for the Midshipmen. Reynolds rushed for a career-high 226 yards and four touchdowns in last week's 42-28 home win over Hawaii. He also threw a touchdown pass in the game.
With 18 rushing touchdowns, Reynolds ranks second in the country among Football Bowl Subdivision players, one behind Colorado State tailback Kapri Bibbs. Reynolds became the first Navy player to rush for four touchdowns in a game since former quarterback Ricky Dobbs in 2009. Dobbs holds the school's single-season record of 27 rushing touchdowns.
Andrew Reynolds, a former baseball player in college who turned to running track after suffering an injury, said his nephew has continued to develop as a runner at Navy from his high school years when he also ran track. Keenan Reynolds credits Navy assistant strength and conditioning coaches Bryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Schuler for helping him become stronger and more explosive in the 18 months he has been in Annapolis.
"I worked with him on his technique and form, but what I've seen from what he's doing with Navy is that he's gotten a lot stronger," Andrew Reynolds said. "His core strength has improved dramatically.
"His upper body and hand strength have improved, and that has helped his overall running. He's one of those guys that once he can see the fruits of his labor, his confidence just soars. Running also improves your mental outlook. You get stronger mentally."
Even Keenan Reynolds' father is surprised that a player once known for his arm is now being recognized for his legs. Among Reynolds' touchdowns last week was a 67-yard sprint where he took advantage of a blitzing Hawaii defense.
"I was thinking, 'Is that my child?'" said Donnie Reynolds, a former college football player who taught and coached his oldest son the game. "He's won me over. I always thought he could run, but I didn't know if he could run that well."
Though his ability to throw might eventually separate Reynolds from some of his predecessors who played quarterback at Navy since Paul Johnson brought the triple-option there in 2002, his ability to run puts him in the conversation with a select group that have operated out of the offense.
"In this offense, you either learn how to run or you're going to struggle," Reynolds said. "That's something I had to learn very quickly and then just over time have gotten better — watching my teammates run, trying to pick up people's moves.
Reynolds said he has studied tapes of two recent Navy quarterbacks, Dobbs and Kriss Proctor.
"Just watching Ricky, he was a very physical runner," Reynolds said. "Coach [Ken Niumatalolo] always draws comparisons to him when it comes to running the mid-line option and being physical. I've watched Kriss in how quick he was on the perimeter — makes one or two cuts and he's gone."
Niumatalolo knew Reynolds could throw the ball coming out of Goodpasture Christian School in Antioch, Tenn., but he marvels at how quickly he transformed into a run-first (and often second, third and fourth down) quarterback.
"When we saw him on tape in high school, we knew he was a good throwing quarterback, but I didn't know he'd be this good running the ball," Niumatalolo said after the Hawaii game. "[Offensive coordinator] Ivin [Jasper] has done a phenomenal job with him. He runs the option as good as anybody we've had. Kaipo [Noa Kaheaku-Enhanda] and Kriss were probably the best, and he's up there with them."
Said Jasper, "He's a great thrower, but his running ability has surpassed all of our expectations."
As he typically does, Reynolds deflects much of the praise about his performance.
"I just try to come to work every day," he said. "Coach Jasper is a great coach. Everything I've been able to do on the field is because what we've gone through in the meeting rooms and on the practice field and being very detailed about things that other people might not see or care about. He'll harp on me about it and yell at me about it."
The biggest concern for Jasper is making sure his quarterback stays healthy.
Reynolds came into the season with an undisclosed arm injury, sustained a mild concussion in a road loss at Western Kentucky in September and sprained his ankle in the first half against Pittsburgh, limping noticeably before scoring a late touchdown that helped the Midshipmen stop a two-game losing streak.
"Ricky was more physical, he had the body type. So you don't want [Keenan] running the ball that much because he doesn't have the body," Jasper said. "He's been real smart with it. He's tried not to take on shots, trying to slither and turn sideway so he doesn't take that big hit."
Even as he was rushing for the third-most yards in a game by a Navy quarterback last week, Reynolds said that Jasper was telling him about the things he didn't do. They included failing to recognize an opening on the edge on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 when Reynolds was stopped short.
"Regardless of what the stats say, I could have played a lot better than I did, and Coach Jasper will not fail to remind of that," Reynolds said. "I'm thankful for that because it keeps me down to earth, keeps me working, keeps me getting better."
SOUTH ALABAMA (3-5) @ NAVY (5-4)
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 1090 AM, 1430 AM
Series: First meeting
Navy offense vs. South Alabama defense: Sophomore quarterback Keenan Reynolds rushed for a career-high 226 yards and four touchdowns in last week's 42-28 win over Hawaii. Reynolds will hope to avoid senior linebacker Enrique Williams, who leads the Jaguars in tackles (73) and had a school record 17 of them in last week's 17-16 loss to Arkansas State. The Jaguars have played better defensively in most of their losses than in their wins, but one of their victories came earlier in the season when senior nickel back Tyrell Pearson picked off two passes in the last three minutes to preserve a 31-24 victory over Western Kentucky. If the Jaguars are focused to stop Reynolds, the Midshipmen will need to continue to get production from fullback Quinton Singleton, who has stepped up after both Noah Copeland and Chris Swain went out with injuries. Singleton had a career-high 93 yards last week and scored a touchdown. Reynolds, who ranks second in the country with 18 rushing touchdowns, has also thrown touchdown passes in each of Navy's past four games.
Navy defense vs. South Alabama offense: The Midshipmen have surrendered nearly 1,000 yards to their past two opponents, Hawaii and Notre Dame — and that yardage is nearly split equally between the ground (482) and the air (488). The Jaguars are led by senior quarterback Ross Metheny, who has completed nearly 62 percent of his passes for 1,817 yards and nine TDs (six INTs). In a 31-24 loss at Tennessee earlier this season, Metheny accounted for 311 yards of total offense. Metheny is South Alabama's second-leading rusher with 359 yards and eight TDs on 77 carries. Navy has had trouble with teams that like to pass, such as Duke (20-27 for 301 yards and three TDs), Pitt (20 of 27 for 203 yards and two TDs) and Hawaii (29 of 33 for 246 yards and three TDs).
— Don Markus