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Navy's Keenan Reynolds is more than just one of the NFL Draft's most interesting prospects

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Let's talk to the greatest service academy player since Roger Staubach. He has a lot of options, per usual.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In last December's Army-Navy game, Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds made a bit of history. He rushed into the end zone for his 85th career touchdown, setting an all-time career record. He was immortalized.

But then he wasn't. Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon scored four touchdowns in his team's New Orleans Bowl win against Arkansas State, vaulting ahead of Reynolds with 87 touchdowns to become the new record-holder.

Reynolds was two back of Dixon heading into Navy's Military Bowl appearance against Pitt on Dec. 28. He doesn't pretend the record meant nothing to him.

"I was gonna break it," he told SB Nation. "I had a mindset of breaking it. I'm a competitor, and I didn't wanna be No. 2."

He wouldn't be. Reynolds scored three times that day, leading Navy to a win that capped the Midshipmen's best season in more than 50 years. He finished with 88 touchdowns to Dixon's 87, once again the most in the sport's history, and ensured his name appears all throughout Navy's record book.

These days, Reynolds is living a unique triple life.

He's a college student by morning, an NFL Draft prospect by afternoon and a Naval Academy midshipman all the time.

His days are packed to the brim as he works toward the draft in April, his graduation from the Annapolis school in May, and a naval career with perhaps some professional football mixed in.

Reynolds reports for morning academy formations by 7 a.m. On a given day, he might have class from 8 to 11:45, a 90-minute lunch break, another class in the afternoon and three hours of football workouts and treatment. A military lecture or a college football awards function in New York or Washington might be sprinkled in during the evening.

"I'm taking and doing the same things that every other midshipman does," Reynolds said. "I just happen to do a little football on the side when I've got free time."

Football people draw up an awful lot of metaphors that compare the sport to war and harp on the virtues of sticking together in battle.

Reynolds doesn't make those comparisons.

"The military's hard work, and I think of football as fun," he said. "To be able to go and play football would be a lot of fun."

It's been a lot of fun for a while. A light clicked on for him during his sophomore year in Annapolis, and it never flickered. After a quality freshman year, Reynolds exploded in his second season. He ran for more than 1,300 yards and 31 touchdowns and threw for 1,000 and eight more, and he never stopped growing more prolific until his senior season filled with Heisman buzz.

For Reynolds, the military and football fold into each other, and there's nothing remotely metaphorical about it.

"From a naval standpoint, the training, a lot of times -- especially coming in as a plebe -- it's very tough," he said. "It's kind of a shock to your system. It teaches you a little bit of resiliency, because there's a lot of things that you have to deal with that might not necessarily be something that you absolutely want to do. But at the end of the day, it's something that you signed up for and that you chose to do, so you have to do it to the best of your abilities. That's something, when it comes to football, when you're going through tough times, you have to continue to persevere and push through."

Sooner or later, Reynolds will join the Navy as a cryptologic warfare officer, stationed in Georgia. This is how the Navy describes Reynolds' future job:

Conducting psychological operations. Managing the application of cryptography and cryptanalysis. Advising decision makers at all levels. Information Warfare Officers help ensure that America's Navy capitalizes on the information vulnerabilities of our enemies. Their responsibilities include:

  • Deterring and defeating aggression
  • Providing warning of intent
  • Ensuring freedom of action
  • Achieving military objectives in and through cyberspace
  • Maximizing the use of sensors, weapons, network communications and control systems
  • Being a key part of the Information Dominance Corps in its mission to gain a deep understanding of the inner workings of adversaries and developing unmatched knowledge of the battlespace during wartime

That's a pretty hard job. So it shouldn't be surprising that Reynolds thinks he can learn any type of NFL offense.

One potential strike against Reynolds is that Navy's system is the polar opposite of what one would consider "pro-style." The Midshipmen run a flexbone, triple-option offense under head coach Ken Niumatalolo, which emphasizes quarterback running and timely pitches to running backs.

But Reynolds isn't worried about being able to pick things up. The system Navy runs – the football one, not the military one – is plenty complex.

"The thing about Navy is the offense is a lot more complicated than people understand," he said. "So I feel like the amount of work that I had to do off the field in the film room and in the meeting room is gonna give me an advantage going in and learning an NFL offense."

Reynolds believes in his brain as much as his feet.

"At the end of the day, football is football, and if you can play, you can play, no matter if you came from the spread, the pro style, the triple option, the air raid," he said. "If you can play, you can play. That's about how I feel, and I feel like I have the ability pick up on some things quickly and that will allow me to pick up on the new offenses quickly."

The bigger questions are where Reynolds fits and when he'll be allowed to give it a shot.

Reynolds wants badly to play in the NFL. He'll probably get the chance, but it's not certain he'll be able to do it right away. Naval Academy graduates make five-year service commitments, which typically start shortly after graduation.

There's reason for optimism. His former teammate, Joe Cardona, is a long snapper with New England, and Cardona splits his time between the Patriots and a naval preparatory academy in Rhode Island. Reynolds has picked Cardona's brain so much, he's "probably tired of me hitting him up and texting him," the QB said. The hope for Reynolds is that he'll get a chance to balance football with this naval career.

"If I'm lucky, I may get that opportunity, but there's really no way to know this early," he said. "I guess all that will be worked out toward draft time."

The draft is coming soon, on April 28, and Reynolds has drawn interest from at least eight teams, a source said, including a handful of playoff teams last year. As it was previously reported, Reynolds has worked out privately for Cardona's head coach, Bill Belichick, at the Naval Academy.

Chances are good Reynolds will not be a full-time quarterback in the NFL.

So the 5'11 athlete is willing to play receiver or running back, or whichever position a team wants him to play.

He's talked with former All-Pro Brian Mitchell, who played quarterback at Louisiana-Lafayette and went on to a distinguished career as a running back and returner. He's watched Julian Edelman and Denard Robinson make NFL transitions after college careers at quarterback.

"It's all about winning," he said. "It doesn't really matter what your role is. As long as you're contributing to the success of your team, then you're a vital part of that team."

Reynolds said he doesn't feel pressure to prove service academy stars can make it big. But it's not lost on him that he's the highest-profile service player in years.

"I've always wanted to kind of lead the way," he said. "I've always been a leader, so I see this as an opportunity for me to lead and show that anybody's capable.

"If you can play, you can play."

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