College Football

Keenan Reynolds is among Navy players who were overlooked by Middle Tennessee State

Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds rushes the ball against the Hawaii Warriors during the third quarter of Navy's 42-28 win at NavyMarine Corps Memorial Stadium on Nov. 9, 2013.

The first college recruiting letter Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds received came from a school less than 30 miles from his home outside Nashville, Tenn.

Reynolds wound up going to the tryout camp run by the school's coach after his junior year at Goodpasture Christian School. Reynolds thought he played pretty well, but he never heard from the coach again.


Three years later, Reynolds will get another chance to impress Rick Stockstill when Navy (8-4) plays Middle Tennessee State (8-4) in Monday's Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.

Asked how disappointed he was not to be recruited by the same school where Benny Cunningham — a high school teammates now with the St. Louis Rams — played, Reynolds shrugged.


"I understand the recruiting process — sometimes it doesn't work out like you want," he said. "I didn't trip over it. At that time, I had Navy and a couple of other schools talking to me."

Not that Reynolds, now a record-breaking sophomore quarterback for Navy, is looking at this game as a chance to prove Stockstill made a mistake.

"He's going to be interested in one thing — what he can do to help his team win," said David Martin, who coached Reynolds in high school. "Everything else is secondary to that. He's never going to be the kind of guy who's going to be motivated by revenge or what somebody did or didn't do. That's not his makeup."

But Reynolds knows some of his former teammates and friends back home will be paying closer attention to this bowl game because of Navy's opponent.

"It'll be fun to play against those guys, the hometown team 30 minutes down the road," Reynolds said. "I know a lot of people who attend the school — nobody on the football team — and some of them have said something to me about playing them.

"It's going to be a good time, a good experience, but I don't try to draw my motivation from that. I just try to focus on what I can focus on."

Lately, that means scoring touchdowns. Reynolds has rushed for 29 touchdowns this season, breaking the previous Football Bowl Subdivision record (27) by a quarterback set by former Navy star Ricky Dobbs and later tied by former Kansas State star Collin Klein.

Reynolds also broke the FBS record for rushing touchdowns in a game, with seven in a 58-52 triple-overtime win at San Jose State on Nov. 22.


It has certainly put Reynolds back on Stockstill's radar. Stockstill said recently that he remembered Reynolds being at the tryout camp, but he doesn't recall any specifics about his performance.

"We evaluated those guys. He's an excellent football player, just different than what we were looking for at the quarterback position," Stockstill said. "He did a nice job at camp, but we were looking for something different."

Reynolds was considered more of a throwing quarterback than a runner in high school, and Stockstill said he wanted to have a little more mobility than many believed Reynolds possessed.

"In 2009 and 2010, we had a quarterback who was a better runner than what we have now," Stockstill said. "We kind have gotten away from the quarterback run game that we had then."

Asked if Reynolds has developed into a better quarterback than he thought he would, Stockstill said, "No, because I always thought he was going to be a very successful and very dynamic quarterback if he got in the right system.

"What he's accomplished has not surprised me. I think he's probably underappreciated as a passer. I think he throws the ball better than what his statistics might show and people might want to give him credit for from the outside."


Martin said that he thinks the strengths and weaknesses of his former star quarterback did not impact Middle Tennesee's decision as much as something more noticeable — Reynolds' size.

"One of the assistant coaches told me that they liked Keenan, but they thought he was too small," said Martin, who now coaches at another school in the Nashville area.

Now 5 feet 11, 185-pounds, Reynolds is not alone among Navy players who grew up in the Nashville area and were overlooked by Middle Tennessee. In fact, Reynolds might have been the only one to even get a recruiting letter.

Junior safety Parrish Gaines, who grew up in Smyrna, Tenn., and played for years with current Middle Tennessee running back Jeremiah Bryson, said he is not motivated by the fact that he was ignored by the Blue Raiders in the recruiting process.

"It's just another football game," Gaines said. "Everybody that needs to be watching us I hope was watching us last week [against Army] or watching every other game this season."

Carlton Flatt, who coached Brentwood Academy for more than 20 years before retiring in 2012 as the state's all-time winningest high school coach, said that Navy and Middle Tennessee rarely, if ever, went head-to-head for the same player.


"I'm not saying that there's not any kids who would fit in at Navy and Middle Tennessee," Flatt said. "The kids who go to Navy and to Middle are two different types of students and young men. Not in all cases, but in many cases."

Navy assistant coach Ashley Ingram, who recruits the state of Tennessee, said that many of the players he looks at are looking past their playing careers.

"They are kids who are looking for more, they're looking for something else, they're looking to maybe do something special with their life," Ingram said.

Ingram said he feels the state is under recruited in general. The private school league in which Reynolds and others — including former star Navy defensive end Jabaree Tuani — played in, "is like the SEC of Tennessee high school football."

Ingram said that if Reynolds, Tuani and a handful of other current and former Midshipmen had played in a different Southern city, they might not have wound up at Navy.

"A lot of people fly over Naashville and Memphis and Knoxville to get to other places to recruit," Ingram said. "If you put them in Atlanta or Tampa or Miami, I think the competition would have been a lot stronger for some of those guys."


Note: Starting Navy defensive end Paul Quessenberry will not play in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl after being suspended for a violation of team rules, a team spokesman confirmed. Sources told The (Annapolis) Capital, which first reported the suspension, that Quessenberry was sent home after arriving late to a team meeting.