Quarterbacks both provide leadership in different ways
There are no "freshmen" at the Naval Academy. The term doesn't imply enough derision. Instead, first-year students are "plebes" or "midshipmen fourth class." The same applies at the U.S. Military Academy, where "new cadets" are held in similar contempt.
Student stratification is a necessary component of military training. Before you can lead, you must learn to follow. Show up, keep up, shut up.
But in both Annapolis and West Point, there is one venue where the academy caste system is relaxed. On the football field, talent is the great equalizer. Those who produce on Saturdays for the Midshipmen or Black Knights have a voice regardless of tenure.
|Army vs. Navy|
|When » Saturday, 3 p.m.|
|Where » Lincoln Financial|
|TV » CBS|
Two players who know this well will start at quarterback for their respective teams Saturday in Philadelphia when Army and Navy meet for the 113th time. Senior Trent Steelman, a starter since the opening game of his freshman year, will make his 46th start for the Black Knights. His counterpart will be sensational freshman Keenan Reynolds, making his seventh start for the Mids.
Reynolds' performance and quiet confidence have allowed him to take on a leadership role despite his tender years. He won the job by delivering a come-from-behind win in overtime at Air Force after starter Trey Miller was knocked out of the game. Since then he has guided Navy to wins in five of his six starts.
There have been no growing pains as Reynolds has completed 46 of 80 passes for 754 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception and has rushed 125 times for 585 yards and nine scores.
Senior wide receiver Brandon Turner is among those who have come to embrace Reynolds as a leader, even though the freshman is just six months removed from Goodpasture Christian School in the suburbs of Nashville, Tenn.
"You go through all these classes talking about how to be a good leader and what leadership really is, and this kid comes in freshman year, 18 years old, and just plays," Turner said. "He's got command presence, but he doesn't really talk. He does his job, and he does it well. That's the type of guy I want to follow."
Unlike Reynolds, Steelman had the advantage of a year at the U.S. Military Academy Prep School, which facilitated his quick ascendance in the triple-option offense of coach Rich Ellerson. This season, Steelman (224 carries, 1,152 yards, 16 touchdowns) is the leading rusher for the nation's top ground attack, advancing to second on the Army career list in total offense (5,899) and first in rushing touchdowns (44), one more than Heisman Trophy immortal Glenn Davis.
When Army (2-9) tries to end its 10-game losing streak in the series and win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy for the first time since 1996 on Saturday, it will have a major experience edge at quarterback.
"A four-year starter in an offense, much less this offense, is a tremendous advantage," Ellerson said. "Besides that, he's obviously a tremendously accomplished player, and there is not a more fierce competitor or physically tough guy in the room, I promise."