The busy awards circuit for Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds culminated on Wednesday afternoon with a stop at the White House, where the record setting-senior joined his teammates and coaching staff to receive the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy from President Obama during a ceremony in the East Room.
Of all the honors bestowed on Reynolds — and there have been many, including the prestigious Sullivan Award as the nation’s most outstanding amateur athlete — the CIC carries the most significance given it represents service academy supremacy. It’s the 10th time in 13 years the Midshipmen have won the trophy and the third in four years for the winningest senior class (36-16) in program history.
“I know winning the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy means a lot to this team,” Obama said with the hardware prominently displayed next to the podium at which he spoke. “It means a lot to me because it shares its name with the most important responsibility I have. No disrespect to Vince Lombardi or Lord Stanley, but this trophy means a bit more to me personally.
“For more than a century, Navy’s mascot has been a goat. After what this year’s team accomplished, I think you could say that maybe that stands for greatest of all-time.”
Navy reached 11 wins this past season to set a school record, including beating Air Force, 33-11, and Army, 21-17, to reclaim the CIC following a one-year hiatus. The victory over the Black Knights was Navy’s 14th in a row against its most contentious rival and came during a time when Coach Ken Niumatalolo was considering the head coaching job at Brigham Young.
But after plenty of introspection as well as lengthy discussions with family and others within his inner circle, the winningest coach in Navy history elected to remain in Annapolis. Niumatalolo and Obama share a special kinship with both hailing from Hawaii, and they exchanged a hug as Niumatalolo approached the podium to speak.
Before addressing the audience that included Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and others who held the same position during previous administrations, Niumatalolo wished Obama well using both a Samoan and Hawaiian term for thank you. In the twilight of his second term, Obama presented the CIC for the eighth and final time.
“It’s his last year,” Niumatalolo said of Obama, who received a hand-painted Navy helmet in addition to a ring from the team. “For us, we were here for his first year, and now it’s his eighth. All the politics aside, we’re grateful for his service to our country.”
Obama mentioned several players specifically during his remarks, including Reynolds, fullback Chris Swain, defensive end Will Anthony and place kicker Austin Grebe. The president listed a handful of Reynolds’s records and recounted the story of how against Memphis the co-captain audibled out of play for him to sneak into the end zone that would have set the career rushing touchdowns record. In his home state and in front of hundreds of family and friends at the Liberty Bowl, Reynolds instead pitched to slotback Demond Brown for the final points during a 45-20 win against the No. 20 Tigers.
Reynolds set the record the following week in a 55-14 win against Southern Methodist at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go and see the president, shake the president’s hand and have him mention your name,” Reynolds, who according to some NFL mock draft websites could be selected in the sixth round, said before boarding one of the team buses outside the White House. “That’s truly a blessing. It’s the last time I get to go, and I really enjoyed it.”