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Navy preview: No doubt Keenan Reynolds is ready to lead Midshipmen
ANNAPOLIS - Following Navy's 31-13 win over Central Michigan last October, Jacqueline Reynolds waited patiently for coach Ken Niumatalolo outside of the locker room just to remind him, "I told you."
Reynolds was referring to the moment when her son Keenan agreed to attend the Naval Academy for football and she predicted he would be the starting quarterback during his freshman season.
"She just looked at me [and said] 'Coach, my baby's going to start for you guys this year,'" Niumatalolo said recently.
Reynolds' mother proved right. Reynolds started the final eight games last fall, leading the team to a 6-2 record. One of his more notable wins was the nail-biting 31-30 win at home against Indiana, which happens to be first on Navy's schedule this season.
The sophomore quarterback is prepared to take on the pressures of being a full-time starter this season. His coach has full belief in him and the Midshipmen to improve from last year's 8-5 record.
"I think we're as talented as we've ever been," Niumatalolo said. "Obviously Keenan gives us a lot of optimism; he's as good a quarterback as we've had here at the Naval Academy."
Since his stellar freshman year, when he threw for nine touchdowns and ran for 10, the eyes of the public have been focused on Reynolds for the upcoming season. But the quarterback cares more about appeasing his team than the media.
"If outside influences come in, it really doesn't matter," Reynolds said. "It's all about what the coach's expectations of me, and my teammates' expectations of me, on the field are. So I try to meet those and just worry about the rest when it comes."
Outside expectations are high, though — Reynolds was placed on the Davey O'Brien Award (best quarterback) watch list. But he has not allowed accolades to change his approach.
"I'm extremely grateful," Reynolds said. "I feel like when you win games, all of the extra stuff comes on its own. No. 1 priority is winning games."
Navy has a lighter start on its schedule this year with the first two games against Indiana and Delaware as opposed to last year's against Notre Dame and Penn State. The Midshipmen are 1-2 all-time against Indiana, with their sole win coming with Reynolds under center.
Though they got the better of the Hoosiers last season, this year the game will be in Bloomington, Ind., and Niumatalolo is well aware of the danger Indiana presents.
"I don't want our guys to get complacent," Niumatalolo said. "This is a tough deal and it's hard to win. We barely got through Indiana late in the game by a point. There's no doubt in my mind they got our game circled. So if we don't come ready to play it could be like last year's opening game so we better get our butts ready to go."
This should not be a problem for Reynolds, as he has been working diligently to ensure he doesn't make some of the same mistakes he made last year. He was hard on himself watching film, noticing some of the bad reads he made in big moments.
"I've been very critical of myself," Reynolds said. "Definitely realized coming into the offseason that I have a lot of work to do. I'm definitely not there and I'm looking forward to getting better and working with my teammates this camp."
He knows he needs to get to another level this season to more effectively lead the Midshipmen.
"Although I'm young, quarterback is the leader of the offense and they have to take control when the time is needed," he said. "The team is definitely depending on me more."
It's quite a responsibility, particularly while juggling classwork at the academy. One might wonder, does he ever have time to sleep?
"I do," Reynolds said. "Not long, but I do."
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