Renton, Wash. — Keenan Reynolds just got promoted. Twice.
He's risen from a fringe free agent thinking about playing in Canada to catching passes from Russell Wilson in the first days of Seattle Seahawks training camp. He's in the right place at the right time, part of the Seattle's suddenly depleted receiver unit.
And recently he became Lieutenant Junior Grade Reynolds.
The wide receiver and a kick returner is a cryptologic warfare officer in United States Navy.
“J.G. Just got promoted,” Reynolds said with a grin after the fifth practice of training camp at team headquarters.
Asked whether he has brought up the fact that Wilson, his quarterback, and every other Seahawk teammate should be calling him “sir” if not saluting him, Reynolds laughed. Somewhat nervously laughed, too, as if someone passing by him into the locker room might hear about his seemingly secret, second life.
“Nah,” he said. “I don't even talk about it.”
But the fact is that the former four-year quarterback for the Naval Academy who set NCAA top-division records with 88 touchdowns and 4,559 yards rushing by a QB — now a 23-year-old who is trying to win a Seahawks roster spot as a receiver and on special teams and make his NFL regular-season debut — has rank.
Reynolds' got rank like no other player in the NFL.
He is the last graduate of a service academy to directly enter the NFL instead of active duty in the military upon graduation. Reynolds was the last approved case of a short-lived waiver from the Department of Defense. It allowed elite-athlete graduates of a service academy the chance to defer active-duty time and go into the Ready Reserve immediately to pursue pro-football careers.
The recent history of service-academy graduates playing in the NFL has been a mix of new opportunities, Super Bowls-and doors slammed shut.
If Barack Obama had not been president when Reynolds graduated from the Naval Academy two years ago, Reynolds might be an a full-time officer on active duty. The Obama administration relaxed service rules and granted by-case service waivers.
That's how 2015 Naval Academy graduate Joe Cardona has snapped for kicks for the New England Patriots in each of the last two Super Bowls. Cardona was a 2015 graduate of Annapolis. He fulfilled his initial service obligations by working once a week at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., and by spending evenings on the job for the Navy. After that Cardona, like Reynolds, got an Obama-administration waiver from the Department of Defense.
Let's move past the fact Reynolds beat archrival Army in each of the four years he was Navy's quarterback (shall we?) to early 2016. Months before Reynolds graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy Navy football retired his jersey number 19. He joined Roger Staubach, Joe Bellino and Napoleon McCallum as the only USNA football players the Midshipmen have so honored.
Yet the spring of 2016 the NFL did not invite the record-setting Reynolds to the league's annual scouting combine, presumably because of uncertainty about his service obligations to the Navy. Service-academy graduates have a commitment to serve as an officer on active duty, typically for about five years.
That April the Ravens drafted Reynolds in the sixth round. He spent most of the ‘16 season on the team’s practice squad. The Ravens promoted him the 53-man active roster for the last game of his rookie season, but left him inactive on game day. The Ravens released him last Sept. 1 among its final preseason cuts.
The Washington Redskins signed him to its practice squad last November but left him there to end the 2017 season.
The former star QB said his experience with the Ravens taught him the work it takes to convert from a college quarterback to NFL wide receiver and kick returner-“a LOT of work, a lot of trial by fire,” he said. It also taught him the value of special teams in breaking through with an NFL team. He said as a rookie in 2016 with the Ravens he learned from now-retired All-Pro Steve Smith Sr. the skills for and value to being a physical wide receiver.
Washington signed him to its practice squad last November but left him there to end the 2017 season.
At the 2017 combine Air Force wide receiver Jalen Robinette, whom some were projecting as a mid- to late-round draft pick last year, was hoping to follow Cardona and Reynolds into the NFL. But Robinette was at that time sensing a change may be coming in DoD policy under the new president, Donald Trump.
Indeed two months later, in the spring of ‘17, the Trump administration rescinded the two-year waiver-request policy. That made Reynolds the last NFL draft pick and entrant under the previous service-waiver option.
A Pentagon spokesperson said last May: “Our military academies exist to develop future officers who enhance the readiness and the lethality of our military services. Graduates enjoy the extraordinary benefit of a military academy education at taxpayer expense.”
Robinette is now a logistics officer in the Air Force.
Does Reynolds have second thoughts on not joining his Annapolis classmates, plus almost all academy graduates before and every one of them since, in serving on active duty right now?
“I'm not sure if ‘second thoughts' is the proper way to put it,” Reynolds said.
“It's definitely a humbling thing to know that my class was the last class (that could apply for the waiver)I definitely feel for those guys that came before me. But I know that they are still thinking about pursuing (their professional-sports dreams) after they complete their first two years of active service.
”And the important thing to remember is, I am still doing what's required of me in the reserves. I am still doing my drills and my requirements.
“I've got eight years in the reserves. I am two years in. So, basically, I owe a certain number of drills (training) a year, and a certain number of active-duty days.”
That's why Reynolds was in Pensacola, Fla., this offseason. That is where the Navy assigned him, to its eight-week Information Warfare Basic Course (IWBC) at the Center for Information Dominance at Corry Station. The Department of the Navy requires reserve officers to complete the IWBC within 36 months their date of commissioning. Reynolds was commissioned as an ensign into the Navy in the spring of 2016.
Lieutenant Junior Grade Reynolds is on active-reserve status in the Navy, attached to a reserve center in Nashville (he was born and went to high school in Nashville's suburbs, Antioch and Madison). He is cross-assigned to his original post-Naval Academy unit, Cryptologic Warfare Group Six at Fort Meade, Maryland.
He's also on pressing-duty status in the NFL, trying to make the Seahawks roster out of training camp at the end of this month.
“Theoretically, if all were to break loose, I could be back in the action,” Reynolds said, meaning war and a call-up to active duty, away from his NFL dreams.
For now, he's trying to get in league action. Any league action. He's yet to play in an NFL regular-season game.
This offseason, when no NFL teams showed interest, he began thinking he might try to play in the Canadian Football League. Then the Seahawks, always in search of players with unique backgrounds and chips on shoulder called. That was in May.
He's getting an unexpectedly early chance with Wilson and Seattle's first-team offense. Top receiver Doug Baldwin is out for weeks with a knee injury. Brandon Marshall has a hamstring issue keeping him from full go after toe and ankle surgeries last year. And fellow wide receiver David Moore has been on the sidelines during practices this week resting a hip-flexor injury.
Last month, during the Seahawks' minicamp, coach Pete Carroll said Reynolds “lit it up” in practice.
Reynolds thinks his experience starring at and graduating from Navy-the discipline, the responsibility, the maturation and the prioritizing of tasks that a service academy demands-may come in handy in his fight for Seahawks job.
“I think it's just the attitude of being at the academy and what it takes to get through there. It's not an easy place to get through,” he said. “There are a lot of ups and downs. Just like with the NFL; it's not an easy place to get through and there are a lot of ups and downs. So I think just having that experience of fighting through adversity, fighting through tough times has kind of helped me.
”A lot of things that we talked about at Navy translates, especially here. I see a lot of similar tenets, in the type of team and the culture. It's pretty similar. It reminds me a lot of being at Navy. The brotherhood here is kind of amazing. First day in the locker room, guys dappin' me up, I don't even know their names. I've never spoken to them a day in my life, and you would think we were best of friends.
“And that's kind of how we were at Navy. We were really tight I definitely feel that camaraderie, that brotherhood here.”