It’s been 25 years exactly since the last college football player from outside a Big Five conference won the Heisman Trophy. Ty Detmer of BYU, which belonged to the WAC at the time, was awarded it in 1990, and since then, every winner has been from a school in the ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12 or Pac-12. (The 1994 winner was Rashaan Salaam of Colorado, which belonged to the Big 8 at the time, a conference that would later become the Big 12.) A member of the Navy Midshipmen football team put it bluntly for the Daily Beast earlier this week: “They need to change the Heisman Mission Statement to ‘The Most Outstanding College Football Player That Plays in a Power Five Conference.’”
The Midshipmen said that after their quarterback, senior Keenan Reynolds, was not included as a finalist for this year’s Heisman, despite the fact that after four years, he has proven himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, and turned Navy into a Top-25 ranked team. The two broadcasters of Saturday’s Army-Navy game made it perfectly clear that they believed Reynolds was cheated out of a finalist position whenever they reminded viewers that the Heisman ceremony would take place later that night, followed by the clip of Deshaun Watson, Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey (the three Heisman finalists) awkwardly tossing around a football–you all know what I’m talking about.
Their comments were justified. Reynolds is one of the best rushing quarterbacks in all of football. In the 21-17 win over Army, he broke the Division I record for most rushing touchdowns (84), and ran for 136 yards on 21 carries. With a bowl game still left to play, he will finish his career with more than 4,000 total rushing yards and NCAA records for career rushing TDs, TDs from scrimmage, points scored and single-season rushing touchdowns.
Factor in that Reynolds has already decided to spend the next five years serving our country for his Naval Academy commitment, and the fact in high school, he could count the number of college offers (Navy, Air Force and Wofford) he had on one hand, and you have the feel-good football story of a lifetime.
Not so fast. Last week, Reynolds was leading the Heisman fan voting online before his name magically disappeared from the list. The Heisman Trust couldn’t even extend to him an invitation to the ceremony in New York City. And here’s why.
In one of the commercial spots from CBS that aired during tonight’s Army-Navy game, Reynolds was asked about what he wanted to do in his future. His answer was this: “information warfare”. Reynolds’s future will not be full of the sports cars, showboating and Sundays that will be part of the future NFL careers of the three Heisman finalists. Derrick Henry, a junior running back from Alabama, is likely to declare for the NFL Draft after this season ends, and while Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson are only sophomores, the title of “Heisman finalist” certainly won’t hurt their egos, or their draft stock.
Most people say that Keenan Reynolds won’t play in the NFL. They blame it on his size, his arm, and like it or not, his school. I saw numerous people on Twitter complaining that the only football game on TV on Saturday was the Army-Navy game, and it “didn’t mean anything”. If anything, Army-Navy is the one game a year that actually means something.
Keenan Reynolds reminded us that, even though it often seems like it, college football is not a job. The Heisman Trust states that the award will be given to the player who “best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity”. Funny. That sounds a little like the first line of the Naval Academy’s honor code, which Reynolds swore to follow when he first stepped onto campus in 2012: “Midshipmen are persons of integrity: We stand for that which is right.”
So let’s do the right thing in this situation. Let’s applaud Reynolds for not only what he’s done in his college career, but also for the incredible commitment to serve this country. Let’s tip our hats to the guy who made it, as Bleacher Report aptly put it, “from under-recruited QB to all-American hero”. Players come and go. Heisman winners come and go–just ask Troy Smith, Robert Griffin III, and Jason White, to name a few. Legends stick around forever, and Keenan Reynolds’ impact will be long-lasting, and more significant than a single trophy.