Keenan Reynolds changed the play.
His coach had called for Reynolds to sneak up the middle, but the quarterback noticed that the defense was loading the box and thought he could get to the outside. With his team near the goal line, trailing by six points with seconds remaining, Reynolds figured he could score.
"We were supposed to do a quarterback sneak, and I just ran outside because I didn't think it was going to work," Reynolds recalled. "I ended up scoring."
Reynolds was 5 years old at the time, and his touchdown gave the Gra-Mar Pirates the Mid-State Youth Football league championship. While Reynolds barely remembers the play — "It's a faint memory," he said with a laugh — Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo smiled when the story was retold to him last week.
"I'm not surprised," Niumatalolo said.
Changing the play at the line of scrimmage, and more importantly getting his team into a play that will work better, is something Reynolds has been doing with regularity. From his years playing youth football to Goodpasture Christian School to Navy, Reynolds' ability as a quarterback is enhanced by his decision-making.
"He's the smartest quarterback that I've been around. He's so mentally tough," Niumatalolo said last week, as the Reynolds and the Midshipmen continued preparation for Saturday's game against Army at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. "He knows what [defenses] are doing, and he can tell you clearly what they're doing, and then he's able to execute.
"And that's what this offense has always been about. If you can get us into the right play and get the ball to the right person, you have a chance. Keenan does it better than anyone I've ever seen. He's the best quarterback I've ever been around."
What Reynolds has done in his sophomore season, including a Football Bowl Subdivision record seven-touchdown performance in Navy's 58-52 triple overtime victory at San Jose State on Nov. 22, is what former Grey-Mar Pirates coach Reggie Jones and former Goodpasture Christian coach David Martin saw when the quarterback as he was growing up outside Nashville, Tenn.
Jones, who has coached youth football in that area for nearly 30 years, said watching Navy on television reminds of what he saw in coaching from Reynolds from ages 5 through 8. By the time Reynolds was 7, Jones said he threw for more than 1,000 yards in an eight-game season.
"People don't believe it when I tell them," Jones said. "Our first play was 'Go Out.' We'd put a man out wide, and he'd run straight down the field. [Reynolds] could throw it about 30 yards. We'd throw it out there and just let the wide receiver go get it."
Reynolds might not have been the most talented player Jones coached — that distinction belongs to Golden Tate, now a wide receiver with the Seattle Seahawks — but he was certainly the best in terms of leadership and decision-making.
"The way kids look at him and play around him, he lifts them up," Jones said.
Martin, who coached Reynolds throughout high school, recalled telling his team that a freshman would start the opening game against a division rival. Some players were skeptical, but the team's star senior running back was not.
Benny Cunningham, now with the St. Louis Rams, told Martin, "Hey, put him in, don't worry about it, we'll be fine,'" Martin recalled. "He won his first game, 14-7, threw a great pass to get us out of a predicament, and Bennie came off the field and said, 'Told you so.' I knew exactly what he meant."
Reynolds took over as the team's leader after Cunningham graduated and ultimately became his own offensive coordinator in Goodpasture Christian's pass-oriented offense .
"He and I spent just a lot of time together talking about how to attack a defense, and after his freshman year I started to go more and more to listening to him," said Martin, who left Goodpasture Christian this year after 21 seasons and is now coaching at another school in the area. "By his senior year he was calling a lot of his own stuff."
Not only is what Reynolds has done at Navy reminiscent of what he did in high school, but Martin seems similarities in what Reynolds says after games and what others say about him.
"It's interesting to read some of the things coming out of Navy about what a great teammate he is and how concerned he is about his teammates," Martin said. "He's the ultimate leader, I think."