As a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach is well-versed on the nuances of playing the position.
As a graduate of the Naval Academy, Staubach is convinced that his alma mater is uniquely blessed at the position today and for the next two seasons under record-setting sophomore Keenan Reynolds.
“We have one great quarterback,” Staubach said during Friday’s news conference for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth. “I wish I could run like he can. Keenan is really special. He’s got a little Johnny Manziel in him.”
Staubach, Navy’s most recent Heisman Trophy winner (1963), understands the significance of comparing Reynolds to Manziel, A&M’s dual-threat quarterback who won the 2012 Heisman. Both players, in Staubach’s estimation, possess football intangibles and instincts that are rare among their peer group.
One key difference: Manziel, also a sophomore, has rushed for 29 career touchdowns. Reynolds has that many since Sept. 7, with a chance to become the first college quarterback to rush for 30 or more TDs in a season when Navy (8-4) meets Middle Tennessee (8-4) in Monday’s matchup at TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium (10:45 a.m., ESPN).
Since taking over as the primary engineer in Navy’s triple-option offense during his freshman season, Reynolds has led the Midshipmen to a 14-6 record. Reynolds (5-foot-11, 185 pounds) has taken things to uncharted heights this season, rushing for 1,260 yards and 29 touchdowns. Included is a seven-touchdown performance in a 58-52 victory over San Jose State.
With another rushing touchdown, Reynolds would join Colorado State’s Kapri Bibbs (31 TDs this season) and a pair of notable running backs from yesteryear as the only college players with 30 rushing TDs in a season: Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders (37 in 1988) and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball (33 in 2011). Sanders won the Heisman Trophy in his record-setting season; Ball was a Heisman finalist in 2011.
“To even be in the same sentence with guys like that is definitely humbling,” Reynolds said. “I’m very grateful. It’s kind of a surreal feeling.”
It is a feeling Reynolds should get used to, in the estimation of Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. Already a skilled option operator (Navy has only eight turnovers this season), Reynolds’ upside is immense because of his decision-making skills.
“He’s the smartest quarterback that I’ve been around,” Niumatalolo said. “He’s young years-wise, but football-wise, he’s as mature of a quarterback as I’ve been around. I have the standards very high for him and he bodes well with all of those standards.”
Although he doesn’t throw it frequently, Reynolds can deliver the ball effectively. He’s a 53.7 percent passer, with eight touchdown passes against two interceptions. But he’s most dangerous in the option game.
“Man, he runs very hard. I love his willpower,” Middle Tennessee safety Kevin Byard said. “He’s a great competitor. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge for us, as a defense, to stop him.”
Reynolds heads into Monday’s game as the national leader in scoring (14.7 points per game) for a team seeking its first bowl victory since 2009. He’s also earned the admiration of the most celebrated quarterback in Navy history, who remains a role model to current Midshipmen.
“I’ve never met Mr. Staubach, but I want to meet him,” Reynolds said. “To be able to have a guy like that come to our school and do the things that he did, then go to the NFL and do the things that he did … . He’s definitely a role model for guys, as far as being a leader. He’s an inspiration.”
From a distance, Staubach sees similar qualities in Reynolds.
“I see Keenan on the field and I can see he’s got great instincts,” Staubach said. “He’s quick, he’s fast and he’s really a good athlete. He’s a leader and the team totally believes in him.”
With one more rushing TD on Monday, he’ll become the first college quarterback to have 30 in a season.
North Texas defensive end Brandon McCoy, an Army veteran who served multiple tours of duty in Iraq, was recognized during Friday’s news conference as recipient of the 2013 Armed Forces Merit Award. McCoy received his award Nov. 11, on Veterans Day.
Ticket prices range from $20 to $150 per seat for Monday’s Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Tickets can be purchased through the bowl website at www.ArmedForcesBowl.com or by calling the bowl office at 817-810-0012.