No service academy football player has won the Heisman Trophy since Navy quarterback Roger Staubach in 1963.
The last to receive serious consideration was former Midshipman and college Hall of Famer Napoleon McCallum who, along with Auburn’s Bo Jackson, Michigan State’s Lorenzo White, SMU’s Reggie Dupard, Notre Dame's Allen Pinkett, Nebraska's Mike Rozier, Ohio State's Keith Byars, Florida State's Greg Allen and Oklahoma State’s Thurman Thomas, was one of the nation’s top running backs in the early to mid '80s.
With LSU’s Leonard Fournette and TCU’s Trevone Boykin dominating the early season Heisman discussion, and with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, Alabama’s Derrick Henry, Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey making a strong push with only three Saturday’s remaining before the voting deadline, we’ve seemed to ignore a young man who definitely merits some serious contemplation.
The Naval Academy’s senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds has quietly assembled a resume that stacks up against any of the aforementioned stars. A lock for eventual enshrinement in the College Football Hall of Fame, Reynolds has led Navy to a Top 20 ranking with an 8-1 overall record this year. The Midshipmen are unbeaten, 6-0, in the excellent American Athletic Conference.
If they can take care of business at Tulsa this weekend, their prime time, nationally televised Friday night game against the undefeated No. 13 Houston Cougars on November 27th will provide the stage and the spotlight that Reynolds deserves.
Lost in the discussions about Oklahoma pounding Baylor into submission this past weekend, the bruising Alabama defense, whether Notre Dame is worthy of a slot in the playoffs and Oregon’s thrilling victory over Stanford, is the story of Reynolds and the Navy Midshipmen.
Against SMU on Saturday, the slick, cerebral field general ran for 137 yards and four touchdowns on 14 carries, setting the career FBS record for rushing touchdowns with a mind-boggling total of 81. Wisconsin’s Monte Ball set the previous record of 77 in 2012.
To put his accomplishment in perspective, Reynolds has rushed for more touchdowns than legends like Marshall Faulk, Tony Dorsett, Ricky Williams, Ron Dayne and LaDanian Tomlinson.
Coming out of Goodpasture Christian School in Madison, Tennessee, he was an undersized, lightly recruited prospect despite being a two-time all-state quarterback. The only colleges recruiting him were Wofford, Air Force and Navy.
During the notoriously brutal and rigorous plebe summer prior to his freshman season, there was some doubt as to if he’d even make it to fall classes. Reynolds considered leaving, exhausted by the initial physical, mental and academic demands of the academy. His thoughts of transferring intensified during the team’s first few games when he wasn’t playing.
But four games into his freshman season, the Midshipmen’s starting quarterback, Trey Miller, suffered an injury in the fourth quarter against Air Force. Trailing 21-13, Reynolds scored the touchdown that sent the game into overtime. They eventually won 28-21.
Within college football circles, it’s well known that freshman do not start games at the Naval Academy. In fact, they rarely play.
But that next week against Central Michigan, Reynolds became only the third freshman in Navy history to start a game for the Midshipmen. He proceeded to throw three touchdown passes in the 31-13 victory.
To use a well-worn cliché, a star was born.
During his spectacular sophomore campaign, he passed for 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns and ran for 1,346 and a mind-boggling 31 TD’s, although folks outside of Annapolis, Maryland and those who don't follow the service academies hardly noticed.
Last year in mid-November, Reynolds put on a performance for the ages against Georgia Southern, rushing for a career-high 277 yards and six touchdowns.
The casual fan might not know who he is, but his resume and skills are impeccable.
His quick feet and sharp mind operate Navy’s dope triple-option offense to its maximum capacity. The impact and legacy that he's leaving behind should be talked about and celebrated with the same fervor as the Heisman front-runners.
His record-shattering career and exploits have been a gift to sincere fans of Navy and the truest ideal of college athletics.
Keenan Reynolds won’t be invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony this year, but he very well should be.