- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 11, 2012

ANNAPOLIS | Keenan Reynolds visited a few Navy spring practices earlier this year, an early glimpse of what was soon to come.

Reynolds was a quarterback who started for his entire high school career. The Naval Academy was his destination of choice, and there was a whole new offense to eventually learn.

“I would just say it got me acclimated with the practice schedule, but that’s about it,” Reynolds said. “You don’t really learn what’s going on until you’re in the meeting rooms and you’re working every day and getting yelled at by coaches. It was a little taste but it was nothing compared to the first day of practice.”

Reynolds, though, was so prepared for his first preseason camp it took about a week to firmly plant himself in the chase for the Midshipmen’s backup role and invite comparisons to former Navy star Ricky Dobbs.

Now comes the next step: Reynolds makes his first start Friday when the Mids (2-3) visit Central Michigan (2-3), filling in for injured junior Trey Miller.

“It’s the same game I’ve been playing since I was small,” Reynolds said. “I have to remember that, put my emotions to the side and focus and do my job for my teammates.”

Coach Ken Niumatalolo said Miller, who aggravated a left ankle injury last week at Air Force and left in the middle of the fourth quarter of Navy’s 28-21 overtime victory, will travel for tonight’s game. But Miller did not practice Wednesday, leaving Reynolds to collect first-team reps.

Reynolds played in each of Navy’s first five games, but made his greatest impression at Air Force. He scored on a 15-yard touchdown run, completed all three of his passes and impressed teammates with how seamlessly handled the situation.

Niumatalolo pointed to his head when asked what stood out about Reynolds.

“Just his composure is great …,” Niumatalolo said. “He grasps things and has a high football IQ.”

That seems clear considering how quickly he’s picked up Navy’s triple-option offense. But there were things about how Reynolds carries himself and how other people acted around him that struck offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper during the recruiting process. That Reynolds made a spring practice trip to Annapolis to get a modest head start on the adjustment process was also noteworthy.

Little, though, demonstrated as much as Saturday’s performance from the charismatic freshman.

“To go in that situation and that game and to play the way he did, it’s like ‘Man,’” Jasper said. “Ricky was a totally different player. I’m not going to compare anybody to Ricky Dobbs. Ricky was in a class by himself. At the same time, you see a kid do certain things and you kind of go ‘Hmmm.’”

Jasper cautioned it is still early in Reynolds’ career, with plenty of opportunities for him to prove his ability.

Tonight just represents another step as Miller, who played well at Air Force before his injury, continues to recover. It’s an unfamiliar place for the Mids, too, since the last plebe to start at quarterback was Jim Kubiak in 1991.

Not that Reynolds’ play makes it easy to think of him as a freshman.

“He exhibits all the aspects of a quality option quarterback at an extremely young age,” senior slotback Bo Snelson said. “Seeing that I’m going to graduate pretty soon and just be a fan instead of a player, I’m pretty excited for the program.”

While the future seems promising, the Mids would like to see further progress in the present. A victory Friday would bring Navy back to .500 at the midpoint of the regular season, and Reynolds will make his first start against the nation’s No. 114 rushing defense.

Both the team and its new quarterback can ill-afford to savor their breakout performances for long.

“Just like our losses [when] we have to move on, your wins you have to move on,” Niumatalolo said. “There’s nothing we can do about Air Force. That game is history. We have to get ready for another team.it would be a travesty for us if we played really well against our rival and then come back this week and lay an egg.”

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