PHILADELPHIA — In the hours before they handed out this year's Heisman Trophy, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds dusted the snow off his shoulder pads and engineered the Midshipmen's 12th consecutive victory over Army.
It wasn't his most artistic performance — and who could have expected a masterpiece on such an ugly afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field — but it completed an impressive regular season by a sophomore quarterback who might have been invited to New York as a finalist for college football's biggest individual prize if he played for a big-conference school.
“I think he deserves to be there,” said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. “He's as good a quarterback that I've been around and I think his stats — he's done well. Not to take anything away from the guys that are there, because all of those guys that are there are very deserving, but I think Keenan had a heck of a year, too.”
Of course, instead of intriguing pro scouts and spawning speculation that he might leave early to enter the draft, Reynolds will soldier on in Annapolis for the next couple of years and, if he holds form, go down in history as one of the greatest players ever to wear a Navy football uniform. Then he'll be commissioned as a naval officer and spend at least five years serving his country.
This is a bargain that Reynolds made with his eyes open, but it would be nice to think that the Heisman isn't just reserved for the top pro prospects at the top football factories. It would also be nice to think that a kid like Reynolds would not be penalized for being an exemplary citizen at a time when too many college athletes are making headlines for the opposite kind of behavior.
No one is saying that Reynolds is more deserving than any of this year's six Heisman finalists, but there's no reason his name shouldn't be mentioned prominently among next year's candidates after leading the Mids to an 8-4 record and into the Armed Forces Bowl later this month.
Considering the sacrifices that academy athletes make and the challenge of competing at such a high level under an extreme recruiting disadvantage, Reynolds' performance should stand out instead of being discounted because he doesn't play in the Big Ten or the Southeastern Conference.
The numbers certainly are there. When Reynolds sprinted 19 yards for his second touchdown of the game and 28th rushing touchdown of the season, he broke the Division I record for a quarterback previously held by Navy's Ricky Dobbs and Kansas State's Collin Klein. He rushed 30 times for 136 yards and added a third touchdown in the final seconds of the game to break a 96-year-old school scoring record with 176 points.
So it was no surprise when the Philadelphia sportswriters voted Reynolds the game's Most Valuable Player. That's no Heisman Trophy, but it'll have to do for now.
He'll have to continue to put up gaudy rushing and touchdown totals and play well in marquee games such as next year's season-opening matchup against Ohio State, but if he does and still doesn't get serious consideration next season or in 2015, then it's fair to wonder if Roger Staubach will go down in history as the last Navy football player to win the Heisman.
Guess we'll just have to wait and see.
Reynolds wasn't interested in joining the debate. He had just delivered another terrific performance and quieted some voices on the other side who said before the game that Army would be able to stop him.
“You know, it's not for me to judge,” he said. “The only thing I can do is come out here and do my best, do my job and let the rest take care of itself. I'm just going to leave it at that.”
If Reynolds deftly sidestepped the Heisman debate, his third touchdown of the game raised a question about the Midshipmen running up the score in the final minute of play. Niumatalolo said afterward that he recognized the possibility of that perception, but chose not to kneel out the game because of Reynolds' record quest.
“I have to think about our team,” Niumatalolo said, “and I've got a kid who has busted his butt this year and he has had a great season and had an opportunity to break the [scoring] record. The thought did cross my mind to take a knee because I have great respect for Coach [Rich] Ellerson and everybody on that side, but then my thoughts went to ‘I have a kid who has a chance to break a record, and those are hard to come by.'”
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.