Chet Gladchuk, athletic director for the United States Naval Academy, calls their star quarterback, Keenan Reynolds, “the beacon” for what the academy stands for and “the profile of a typical middie.”
Not unless the “typical middie” would be flown by helicopter after leading his team to a victory over archrival Army (the Midshipmen are a 22 ½ point favorite) to make it to the Heisman Trophy announcement ceremony in New York. The logistics were all worked out, according to a press release.
“Two helicopters would take a party of nine people, including Reynolds and his family, for about a 30-minute flight to New York, where a landing pad is 1.3 miles from the site of the ceremony. A car would be waiting to quickly take him to the ESPN show.”
The Navy had a Plan A and B. Gladchuk explained how Reynolds would be there for the 8:00 pm broadcast. "If the game is over by 6:20, 6:30 and we get him out of there by 7 o'clock … he should land in time. How dramatic would it be if he walks in even when the show is under way? He comes walking down with his Navy blues on. 'Excuse me, fellas. Sorry I'm late,' and he sits down."
It could have happened if both the Heisman Trust and voters for the trophy had a better understanding of the meaning of “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” But Midshipman Keenan Reynolds was not invited to New York when the finalists were announced early this week.
The Heisman Trust annually bestows the most famous and prestigious college sports award on the player who best meets their criteria. A great many people think no one meets those standards better than Reynolds—including Senator John McCain, Heisman winner, NFL All-Star and former Navy quarterback Roger Staubach, and hundreds of thousands of online voters who made him their favorite on ESPN’s Heisman House page. (He was leading the fan voting when his name was suddenly removed from the page last Wednesday, then mysteriously restored after a social media uproar.)
But in practice “pursuit of excellence” means pursuit of a lucrative NFL contract.
Or, as one of Reynolds’ blockers on the offensive line put it when Reynolds was left off the ballot this week, “They need to change the Heisman Mission Statement to ‘The Most Outstanding College Football Player That Plays in a Power Five Conference.’” (The Atlantic Coast, Southeastern, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pacific-12 Conferences. Navy plays in the relatively unheralded American Athletic Conference.)
Scarcely anyone wins the trophy or is even seriously considered for it unless they’re a great pro prospect, and most pro prospects come from the power conference schools. This year the three Heisman finalists are Alabama’s Derrick Henry, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, and Stanford’s Christian McCaffery—all from power schools that probably wouldn’t have offered Reynolds a scholarship.
Reynolds isn’t an NFL prospect, or so his critics say. He’s too small, he doesn’t throw well enough, and he’s committed to the United States Navy for the first five years of his prime. At least those are the reasons offered by sportswriters—reasons which should make anyone from outside the football establishment ask “What’s wrong with the people who vote for this thing?”
Start with the height thing. Reynolds is a shade over 5-10. If he went without a haircut for a couple of months, he’d be on even keel with the shortest QB in pro football, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, who has taken the Seahawks to the Super Bowl the last two years. Reynolds’ coach, Ken Niumatalalo, thinks, “If Keenan goes to the right team, one that is willing to build its offense around his talents, he could do Russell Wilson things.”
“Russell Wilson things” means that he has the strength and accuracy to win football games with his arm. “Oh, he can throw,” says Niumatalalo, “we just chose not to have him throw.”
Mostly that was because Reynolds is such a fantastic runner. This year he set the NCAA record for career rushing touchdowns, 78. This season alone he ran for more than 1000 yards with 19 TDs, leading his team to a 9-2 record, good enough to secure a bowl bid. And he still has two games to go, Saturday’s game with Army and the Military Bowl against Pitt on December 28.
But we digress. We were talking about his passing ability. When Reynolds had to throw, he excelled, as he did in a 52-31 loss to Houston on November 27 when he completed 13 passes for 312 yards. “If he could have played on the defensive team, too,” said Staubach, who was at the game, “we might have won it.”
Ah, yes, Roger Staubach. This brings us to his third supposed drawback: no NFL team will draft Reynolds, they say, because he owes five years of military service. The last Navy quarterback they said that about was Roger Staubach in 1963, when he was widely recognized as the best college football player in the country and won the Heisman. Even back then pundits warned NFL teams about selecting him because of the service commitment (at that time is was four years), but Staubach came back from the service at age 27 to win two Super Bowls for the Dallas Cowboys.
Besides, there are deals to be had that allow a player to both play and serve, as with former Midshipman Napoleon McCallum, the man whose school rushing records Reynolds broke and a Heisman candidate twice before he graduated in 1986. The Oakland Raiders wanted him, and the Navy assigned him to the West Coast; he played in the NFL six years.
So everybody should stop telling Keenan Reynolds what he can’t do.
Reynolds has been playing football since he was five years old – yes, five – when, according to his mother, Jackie, “He was playing against six year olds.” He was a star for the Grey-Mar Pirates in Antioch, Tennessee, and, later, for Goodpasture Christian High School in Madison.
Football came easy to him, it was in his blood. His father, Donald, played at Wofford College in South Carolina, one of the first historically white colleges to admit black students. Keenan says, “He was my mentor and my teacher.”
His father also taught him to think for himself, and right now Keenan is thinking about studying law or perhaps information warfare as his post-graduation service assignment. Either is doable – he has a 3.6 GPA this semester. His roommate, Will Anthony, a defensive end on the team, thinks Keenan might be leaning toward the latter, telling a reporter recently, “I heard more about information warfare than I did about football.
But it wouldn’t be prudent for anyone to assume that Ensign Reynolds couldn’t combine either with playing football if some enterprising NFL front office shows a bit more imagination than the Heisman Trophy Trust.