Keenan Reynolds Deserves the Heisman Trophy

Columns suggesting that Keenan Reynolds should be considered for the Heisman Trophy started popping up as he approached Montee Ball’s record for career rushing touchdowns. Since he broke the record, they’ve become even more frequent. Navy’s senior quarterback has been receiving attention nationally as well as locally, from a variety of outlets. National media voices like Kirk Herbstreit and Tony Barnhart have mentioned his name as a serious candidate. All of it is deserved.

If you haven’t read those columns, I suggest that you do. They all make good points, although Loverro’s rubs me the wrong way a little bit; I don’t think it’s necessary to criticize other players to prop up Reynolds’ character. He stands on his own. Besides, voters aren’t choosing between him and Jameis Winston. I have no reason to think that other candidates for this season’s Heisman Trophy aren’t also good guys. The point remains, however: if a football award has a character component, then Keenan Reynolds must be a candidate.

That isn’t just because he goes to a service academy, either. It’s who he is. Nobody steps onto a field more prepared. He spent his spring break as a high school senior in Annapolis so he could watch and learn from Navy’s spring practice. The Mids’ “1-0 every week” mantra didn’t come from the coaches; it came from Reynolds and fellow team captain Bernie Sarra. The Tennessee native had the chance to break Ball’s record in front of friends and family at Memphis, but he changed the play at the goal line because he saw how the defense was lined up. He knew the team needed the touchdown and put the team’s needs first. He cares about perfecting his craft and winning games. He is what every coach dreams of in a team captain.

I don’t want to focus too much on that, though, because sometimes fans use character as a crutch if they don’t think their candidate stacks up in other ways. That’s simply not necessary with Reynolds. He is two plays away from scoring more touchdowns than anyone in college football history. Think about that. Every week he adds to his record for career rushing touchdowns. It isn’t just because of longevity, either; he has scored the second most rushing touchdowns per game as anyone in history. He is only 300 yards away from having more career rushing yards than any quarterback, and he still has at least three games left to play. He already has the record for most points scored by a quarterback. Number two on that list is Heisman winner Eric Crouch– 120 points behind. Keenan has already played his way into history no matter what Heisman voters think.

I don’t think I’m saying anything you haven’t already heard before. These points were certainly made much more eloquently in the columns I linked earlier. What I really want to do here is give it all context. To truly appreciate how remarkable Keenan Reynolds is, you need to understand the offense in which he plays.

There is no position in football that has more impact on his team and on a game than that of a triple option quarterback. None. Every play revolves around him. Playing quarterback is difficult in any offense, obviously, but the option quarterback doesn’t have a chance to hand the ball to a tailback 20-30 times per game. He’s not getting easy yards by throwing a bunch of screen passes. When you run the option, even the running plays depend on your decisions, and nobody makes those decisions better than Reynolds.

Because every play goes through Reynolds, you have to look at the Navy offense as a whole if you want to truly assess him statistically. Navy runs for nearly 350 yards per game, and will likely set a school record for rushing yards by the end of the season. That’s impressive, but what truly sets the Mids apart is their efficiency. Because Navy controls the clock with long drives, they get fewer possessions than most teams; the Mids are only 84th in the country in first downs. Despite getting fewer chances to score, they are 16th in the country in scoring offense, scoring a whopping 38.2 points per game. That is more than every team in last week’s College Football Playoff top four. It’s incredible efficiency for any school, let alone a service academy, and it takes a special player calling the shots to make that happen. Keenan Reynolds is that special player.

Let me put it another way. A passing quarterback gets statistical credit for a 70-yard catch-and-run on an easy screen pass. There is no statistic for the split-second decisions that an option quarterback makes on the dive or the pitch, even though these are much more difficult plays to execute and much more dependent on a quarterback’s skill. Imagine if there was such a statistic, then look at Navy’s output this year and imagine how many yards and points that Keenan Reynolds is responsible for. It’s staggering.

If you don’t think Reynolds’ statistics measure up, that’s a shortcoming of the statistics, not Reynolds.

A triple option quarterback could have the game of his life, but no statistics to show for it. That’s the nature of the beast; a defense that wants to take the quarterback away can do so simply as a matter of choice. Opposing defenses know how good Reynolds is, and they all game plan to stop him. If an option quarterback doesn’t put the offense in the right play and make the right reads, his team will suffer. Reynolds’ decision making means that Navy opponents are forced to pick their poison. It isn’t just a cliché with him– he truly does make the players around him better and puts them in a position to succeed. Any defense that tries to stop Reynolds’ legs just opens themselves up to get beaten by his brain or his arm.

That is what makes some of Keenan’s records so incredible. Defenses do try to stop him, but he produces anyway. He isn’t simply the product of a system, either. He stands out even compared to past Navy greats. He is Navy’s all-time rushing leader, having passed two-time All-American and College Football Hall of Famer Napoleon McCallum. Of the six greatest rushing performances by a quarterback in Navy history, Reynolds owns four of them. His 82 touchdowns are not only a school record, but 33 more than the next player on the list. In 2013, he broke Navy’s single-season scoring record set by Bill Ingram… in 1917. He’s only one away from tying the Navy record for passing touchdowns, even as he throws interceptions at a lower rate than anyone in school history. Keenan Reynolds does everything.

There are some who argue that career statistics should not factor into Heisman voting. That is nonsense. The award is for college football’s outstanding player. The ability to produce year after year is the very mark of greatness and should count every bit as much as one statistical outlier of a season. That is especially true this year, when nobody is having that kind of season to begin with. Well, not using conventional statistics, anyway. Keenan Reynolds certainly is, orchestrating a prolific offense that has his nationally ranked team playing for a chance at a New Year’s bowl game.

All too often, talk of who deserves the Heisman Trophy becomes about finding players that fit into a certain mold. It should not be about picking the best athlete, or the guy that projects the best at the next level, or the greatest individual stat producer. It should be about the greatest total package as a college football player. Nobody fits that description better than #19 in the Navy blue and gold.

Heisman Trophy winners become the faces of college football for generations to come. Heisman voters, then, are de facto stewards of the game. They should choose that player which represents the best that college football has to offer in 2015. One player has proven himself as a leader, a winner, and as someone who makes the year 2015 stand out in the record books.

The choice, then, is clear.

The choice is Keenan Reynolds.

24 thoughts on “Keenan Reynolds Deserves the Heisman Trophy

  1. CEA

    Mike…spot on. Everyone that reads this should determinate as broadly to the sports media as possible. Perhaps my cynicism will be proven wrong and Midshipman Reynolds will get his due. The great thing about this young man though, is I truly believe he could careless…his focus is going 1-0 and on his fellow teammates. Whether he wins or not – in the end – will not reflect on him, but rather on the validity of Heisman voters to truly recognize greatness.

  2. Mike VanBrocklin

    Mike, if you are wondering by looking at my last name, yes, I am related to the Dutchman, Norm VanBrocklin. Problem is genetics. The throwing arm gene was too diluted by time it reached me!

    1. JimBear

      Great player, tough guy . i loved the old NFL films clips of him on the sidelines as a coach ripping his own team.

  3. Anonymous

    Wow. You read this and try to process what we are all witnessing and it’s hard not to get emotional. Keenan and this whole team are so much what the Academy is about. It’s great for them and great for the school and it’s a great season to be a Navy fan.

    Here’s hoping the Heisman voters can expand their biases and honestly consider the whole picture.

  4. Monty93

    Well said, Mike.

    He deserves more than just to “be in the room in NYC.” He absolutely has the stats and demonstrates the highest level of “excellence with integrity” making him more than deserving of the trophy. Sadly, given their recent history of ignoring the integrity qualification for Heisman, I have very little faith that enough of the Heisman voters will do the right thing this year.

    In addition, with his stats, Keenan should also be an absolute LOCK for the CFB Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, it seems he may not even qualify for that. The first qualification is, “First and foremost, a player must have received First Team All-America recognition by a selector organization that is recognized by the NCAA and utilized to comprise their consensus All-America teams.”

    I hope there’s at least one “selector organization” that does the right thing. If the FBS career touchdown leader isn’t even eligible for the hall of fame, that would be an absolute travesty.

  5. Anonymous

    Color me prejudiced because of my relationship with Keenan, but I think is your best work. You captured his essence as few, if any, have done, and you make the case as well as it can be made. I just wish I could vote or maybe get a ride to NYC!

  6. gonavy81

    Mike, you’ve eloquently stated what I’ve been thinking for some time. Thanks. Sadly, unlikely to occur because the voters have little appreciation of true leadership.

  7. Jim McConnell

    Mike…..As always….superb!
    This old retiree (class of 60) checks the Birddog about five times daily to get your latest analysis. Can’t wait for your words on Friday’s game.
    Go NAVY ……1-0.

  8. Tim

    “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.”

    – Heisman Trust Mission Statement,

    Excellence with integrity. Great ability. Diligence, perseverance, and hard work.

    If the Heisman voters were faithful to their mandate, this post would not be a pitch for why Keenan Reynolds deserves the Heisman Trophy; it would be a rumination wondering why anyone else in the field even has a chance to beat him out for it.

  9. Jim

    I lived in Newport, RI until earlier this year. I had a neighbor who was a voter in the Heisman shenanigans who seldom went to any major football games and unless he had a multiple taping machine and access to game broadcasts that were not available to average guys he really had no clue who fit the excellence with integrity requirements. He spent more time on weekends frequenting the tourist bar scene in Newport than watching college football. When I discovered that this guy was a voter I loss all interest in who won the trophy.

    Couple that with the disdain for Navy of the so called experts on ESPN, Big Ten, and SEC networks I am afraid that Mike’s excellent article will be in vain.

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