Keenan Reynolds sometimes inconveniences himself when he picks up his phone, connecting with scamming telemarketers. He still answers the calls, though, probably because he fears his mother would get mad if one of her calls went unanswered, he said.
Navy’s recruitment of Reynolds, who is five rushing touchdowns away from breaking the FBS record, began and ended with a phone call. Messages on Facebook and Twitter have to some degree made recruiting phone calls obsolete, but they were pivotal for Reynolds and Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo’s relationship.
A Reynolds phone call to Niumatalolo minutes before his commitment decision gave Reynolds the necessary final read on the man who could be his future coach. For Niumatalolo, his information on Reynolds’ character was confirmed as soon as Reynolds picked up his phone. That isn’t hyperbole, either.
“The times I called him, he always answered his phone,” Niumatalolo said. “One time he was going into a basketball game. One time he was at a movie and stepped out of the theater. Most people would let it go to voicemail, but he actually stepped out to take the call. This kid’s a special kid, really polite. We knew he was a good football player, but the stuff off the field told you he was a really good person.”
Reynolds said regardless of what he was doing, if a college coach dialed him, he’d “have enough respect to answer the phone.”
At Navy, recruiting goes beyond finding the overlooked and the undersized. As a service academy coach, Nuimatalolo is tasked with finding the neglected talent and the rigidly principled, an uncompromising Navy standard.
While fulfilling that standard off the field at Navy, as a senior Reynolds is on the verge of setting an NCAA standard on it. Reynolds -- a quarterback -- has 73 career rushing touchdowns, five shy of breaking Montee Ball’s FBS record of 77, which means there is an outside chance he could tie or set the record against Notre Dame this Saturday. Ball’s FBS record of 83 total touchdowns is also within reach for Reynolds.
Reynolds is aware he’s closing in on the record and calls it an “honor,” but it’s on his periphery at the moment. Ultimately it might come to define his collegiate career, but he hopes it’s a footnote in Navy’s 2015 season. Niumatalolo said Reynolds understands that quarterbacks, maybe unlike any other position in sports, are harshly judged on wins and losses. The Midshipmen, in their first season in the American Athletic Conference, are 4-0 and might become the favorite to win the conference and represent the Group of 5 in a New Year’s Six bowl if they can upset the No. 15 Fighting Irish.
“My No. 1 focus is getting W’s, and if that entails me scoring a bunch of touchdowns, then so be it; if it entails me handing off all game, then so be it,” said Reynolds, who deferred to teammates on three rushing scores last week. “[The record] you can talk to your grandkids about one day, but right now it’s not my main focus. I’d focus on it when I look back on my life and career.”
Reynolds’ name is already in the NCAA record books. He holds the single-season (31) and career (73) rushing touchdown marks for a quarterback. His seven-touchdown performance in a 2013 game against San Jose State tied the record for most touchdowns in a game against a major-college opponent.
What makes Reynolds such a dangerous option quarterback, his coach said, is how well he knows the offense. With 41 career starts under his belt, Reynolds is adept at getting the ball into the right hands.
Niumatalolo thought he let his star pupil slip from his hands before Reynolds ever arrived at the Naval Academy. Just before signing day in 2012, Reynolds was deciding between Air Force, his longtime leader, and Navy. He called Niumatalolo, who after hanging up thought that might have been the last time he’d talk to Reynolds.
Reynolds asked Niumatalolo if he would start as a freshman even though Trey Miller was returning at quarterback. Niumatalolo told Reynolds he wouldn’t be given anything.
“I hung the phone up and I kind of kicked myself in the butt and said I probably should have told him he could start,” Niumatalolo said.
That blunt response was what Reynolds wanted to hear, though. He thought Niumatalolo might have been misleading him if he offered the starting job before Reynolds’ first practice. As it turns out, Reynolds started a few games into his first season, anyway.
“If he had told me, ‘Oh yeah, you’ll come in and start Day 1,’ it would have told me he wasn’t being up front,” Reynolds said. “He let me know what the truth was.”
It’s a good thing Niumatalolo picked up the phone.