Navy's Decorated Quarterback Seeks Unprecedented 4-0 Army Record

  • Midshipman Keenan Reynolds, Naval Academy quarterback and most valuable player, runs the ball to score the Navy’s second touchdown during the 114th Army-Navy football game on Dec. 14, 2013. Marvin Lynchard/DoD
    Midshipman Keenan Reynolds, Naval Academy quarterback and most valuable player, runs the ball to score the Navy’s second touchdown during the 114th Army-Navy football game on Dec. 14, 2013. Marvin Lynchard/DoD
  • Keenan Reynolds
    Keenan Reynolds

Football careers at the Naval Academy and West Point are determined by how players perform in the Army-Navy rivalry. That's why Navy senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds has a chance Saturday to break the most prestigious quarterback record in the rivalry's storied history.

Reynolds has the chance to become the first quarterback ever to go 4-0 against Army.

Even Roger Staubach, an NFL Hall of Famer and Heisman Trophy winner, beat Army only twice during his time at Navy. Granted, college football players didn't get to play their freshman year, but he still lost to Army in his senior year.

Before Navy started its unprecedented 13-game winning streak, the Army-Navy rivalry had been relatively even. It was rare for a senior class to have beaten their service academy rivals more than twice.

It has been even rarer for a quarterback to start his freshman year at the Naval Academy, where it's referred to as a Midshipman's plebe year.

Reynolds earned the starting job his plebe year after leading a comeback victory against Air Force in 2012. He remained the starter against Army when he faced Trent Steelman -- a four-year starter himself at Army.

Entering the game, many West Point alums felt this was their chance to finally end what had become a 10-game losing streak to Navy. Their decorated senior quarterback was facing an inexperienced plebe under the extreme pressure to extend Navy's recent dominance in the Army-Navy rivalry.

Those hopes were fleeting as Reynolds proved to be the most valuable player in the game, leading Navy on the game-winning drive that had all of his quarterbacking talents on display. He set up the winning 8-yard touchdown run with a perfectly thrown 49-yard pass on the fourth-quarter drive.

After Navy clinched its eleventh straight victory following an Army fumble, many reporters in the press box commented on how tough it would be for Army to end its losing streak as long as Reynolds remained under center.

Four years later and Reynolds' career at Navy has certainly not disappointed. He will go down as one of the finest players in Navy and NCAA history. Last month, he broke the NCAA FBS record for career rushing touchdowns held previously by Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.

Entering Saturday's game, Reynolds has rushed for 83 touchdowns and 4,279 total yards -- a Naval Academy record. In his senior season, he has rushed for 1,249 yards and thrown for 964 yards.

If he throws for 36 yards against Army, he will become the first Navy quarterback to rush and throw for 1,000 yards in two seasons.

Reynolds' strong arm is what makes Navy's triple-option attack so difficult to stop. If a defense commits too many defenders to stop the run, he can throw over the top for a quick-strike touchdown. He threw for more than 300 yards in the loss to Houston.

Reynolds' accolades are not limited to personal achievements. He has led Navy to four straight bowl games during his career and helped the Naval Academy transition into the American Athletic Conference, where he was named the conference's offensive player of the year. Navy is ranked 21st nationally in The Associated Press poll.

Most importantly, he's only lost to a fellow service academy once during his career -- to Air Force last year. Navy beat Air Force this year and would regain the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy with a win over Army.

Throughout his senior season, he was considered a strong Heisman contender. Until Navy lost to Houston, many expected him to be invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, which will be held hours after the conclusion of the Army-Navy game.

The Naval Academy even put together a plan to fly him by helicopter from Philadelphia, where the Army-Navy game will be played this year, to New York City. Those plans turned out to be unnecessary after ESPN announced that Reynolds was not a finalist.

His Heisman candidacy sparked a national controversy when ESPN removed him from their Heisman fan voting ballot after the Houston loss -- even though he led with the most votes for the season. U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Naval Academy graduate, stumped for Reynolds to be returned to the ballot. ESPN quickly obliged under criticism from many national college football pundits. But while he had high fan support, Reynolds didn't get enough votes from previous Heisman winners or sports journalists to be named a finalist.

The Antioch, Tennessee, native said Tuesday he will enter his last Army-Navy game trying to appreciate the moment.

"I'm going to enjoy all the little things about the game -- coming out for warmups, going to midfield for the coin toss, that type of stuff," Reynolds said.

The Army-Navy game has proven to be where Reynolds' star has shown the brightest. With a mix of snow and rain falling throughout the game during his sophomore year, Reynolds led Navy with 144 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a 34-7 blowout of Army.

Last year in Baltimore, Reynolds again surpassed the century mark on the ground, rushing for 110 yards and one touchdown in Navy's 17-10 win over Army -- the Naval Academy's 13th consecutive victory.

Despite all the success, Reynolds said he can still remember the nerves he felt ahead of his first game against Army.

"That was a pretty nerve-wracking game. When I think about it, I get nervous again," Reynolds said earlier this week. Winning that first game as a plebe -- "that's something that will stick with me forever."

Reynolds' achievements have not been limited to the football field. His coach, Ken Niumatalolo, calls him a leader at the Naval Academy and a role model for "young people in America." He was recently selected to be an information warfare officer after he graduates this May.

"It's cool to have a person that's excelling in football, but is also a great person. For Americans to see him, a young man at the United States Naval Academy, all of us are paying for his scholarship because we're all taxpayers," Niumatalolo said last month.

"He's not only been a heck of a football player, but he's going to be a phenomenal leader in the military. He already is."

-- Michael Hoffman is a contributor to Military.com and can be reached at mhoffman@tandemnsi.com. Follow him on Twitter at @_MichaelHoffman.

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