Pressure is not in Keenan Reynolds’ vocabulary.
As Navy’s freshman quarterback prepares to lead his team against Army this weekend, the only thing on his mind is to play football and play it well.
“I try to approach every game the same and put my team in best position to win,” Reynolds said. “I have to be able to do my job for my brothers, and I can’t let personal feelings get in the way of that.”
The 5-foot-11, 199-pound quarterback proved early in the season that he could handle any stressful situation.
When junior quarterback Trey Miller was injured Oct. 6 against Air Force there were fewer than 10 minutes to play, and Navy trailed by eight points. Reynolds came on and led a 75-yard touchdown drive and two-point conversion, and the Midshipmen ultimately won in overtime against one of their chief rivals.
“It was a great experience,” Reynolds said of the win over Air Force. “The joy in the locker room that I saw in the seniors’ eyes, that’s what it’s all about.”
Throughout the season he has continued to think about that day, remembering that he and his teammates have to work hard and grind throughout the week so they can have that feeling at the end of every game. Especially the game against Army.
Growing up in Antioch, Reynolds started throwing a football when he was 3 years old. By the time he joined his first team at 5, his father Donnie said it was already apparent that he would be a great quarterback. It was Donnie’s first year coaching youth football, and when another coach saw Keenan’s ability to throw the ball coupled with his intelligence, there was no other 5-year-old he thought was better equipped for the job.
“From that point on he just blossomed,” Donnie said. “I started to work with him on footwork and mechanics and the basics of throwing the football.”
While Donnie Reynolds coached his son only until Keenan was 8, the former University of Tennessee-Martin strong safety continues to be a mentor in his son’s sports career. He travels to every game and constantly offers his support.
“My dad taught me the importance of being a leader and how people look at you differently as quarterback, and you have to conduct yourself accordingly because all eyes are on you,” Reynolds said. “He’s always giving me great advice, and he warned me it was going to be tough here, but he’s always believed in me from Day One, and it’s always good to have someone in your corner.”
As Reynolds trained under different coaches he continued to grow, not only as a quarterback but as a person.
At Goodpasture Christian, his coach David Martin said he maintained the highest standard of character through his conduct, work ethic and discipline. He even joined the track and field team to improve his speed for football.
“The first thing you look at in a quarterback is does he make those young men in the huddle better, and [Reynolds] does through his charisma, his leadership, his self-confidence, and the confidence others have in him,” Martin said. “He inspired his teammates.”
Martin said Reynolds is very smart and can easily read the field and execute whatever is asked of him, noting that he has “great football IQ.”
During his high school football career Reynolds was named the district MVP twice, took his team to consecutive district titles, and was a two-time All-State selection.
When it came time to choose a college, there were plenty of options.
While Reynolds has family in the Navy, he said he never considered joining the military until Air Force and Navy approached him.
“I got interested in the opportunity to serve my country and becoming an officer and all that good stuff when they started recruiting me,” Reynolds said. “There was something about this place [the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md.] I knew I liked, and I decided this is where I needed to be for the next four years.”
Donnie Reynolds said if his son had stayed closer to home with an SEC program he would have had to change positions. In the end Keenan felt comfortable only at quarterback.
Although Navy had a starting quarterback in place, coaches assured Reynolds and his dad that he’d have the chance to compete. Little did anyone know that in October he’d be the starter.
“We have a bunch of good quarterbacks come through here, but to be able to come in as a freshman and play as well as he has overall is unheard of,” Navy’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper said. “His composure, the way he carries himself on and off the field. … He’s mature beyond his years.”
The win over Air Force put Navy one step closer to winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy — a prize the three military schools have been fighting over for decades. For the past two years, it has been sitting on Air Force’s shelf, and Reynolds and his team are ready to bring it home.
If the Midshipmen beat Army this weekend, they will not only be awarded the CIC Trophy and Thompson Cup, which goes to the winner of the Army-Navy game, but will solidify an already strong season. The team is 7-4 and has lost just once since Reynolds became the starter.
Reynolds said he does not plan to change anything for this game, despite the pressure of playing one of the school’s oldest rivals.
“I always approach things the same way; I’ll just have added focus on the miniscule details for this game and make sure we use every practice as an advantage to get ahead,” he said.
Reynolds is still finding the balance between school and football, but said knowing that he gets to play the game he loves every day gives him something to look forward to and keeps him focused in the classroom. While he plans to try out for the NFL, he is also pursuing a career as a pilot.
At this point, his football knowledge exceeds both his experience and education.
“He’s done some things that have surprised me not only as a parent but as a football coach,” Donnie Reynolds said. “He’s doing things I’m saying ‘wow’ to — how did he see that guy? How did he know to throw the ball in there? You can be the best football coach out there, but that’s something you can’t teach.”