Before he trained to be a cryptologic warfare officer in the Navy, Keenan Reynolds was able to meet President Barack Obama three times.
RENTON, Wash. — Unless you have the proper security clearance — which no one at the Seattle Seahawks’ headquarters has — wide receiver Keenan Reynolds can’t really tell you what his job in the military entails.
Reynolds’ position coach, Nate Carroll, can only guess.
“I would think it’d be some sort of like, codes, code-breaking in war, sending signals between people,” Carroll said. “That would be a guess. Like, ‘Windtalkers’ I guess. I don’t know.”
Quarterback Russell Wilson doesn’t know, either.
“It’s funny because I asked him that like last week,” Wilson said before the Seahawks’ third preseason game. “I was like, ‘What do you do?’ He was like, ‘It’s some cryptic stuff.’ I’m like, ‘What do you mean?'”
When Reynolds is at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, the former Naval Academy quarterback is competing for one of the final spots in the Seahawks’ crowded receiving corps, which makes him one of the players with the most to gain in Seattle’s preseason finale Thursday night against the Oakland Raiders. When he’s at Fort Meade in Hanover, Maryland, or whichever base he’s assigned to next, Lieutenant Junior Grade Reynolds is a cryptologic warfare officer in the United States Navy.
It’s every bit as covert as it sounds.
“So a lot of it I can’t really describe, per se,” Reynolds said. “But uh, it’s, it’s simply, uhh, really just, I don’t even — I’m trying to think of the best way to describe it. But it just, let’s just say it deals with, uhhh, the cyber realm. We can just … the cyber realm and signals intelligence. That’s pretty much it.”
No spokespeople with the Navy or Fort Meade who were contacted by ESPN would describe anything about the job, but the Navy’s website says cryptologic warfare officers “are directly involved in every aspect of Naval operations — delivering information to decision-makers by attacking, defending and exploiting networks to capitalize on vulnerabilities in the information domain.” It adds that CWOs “employ a thorough understanding of sensors and weapons, strategy and tactics, as well as national systems’ capabilities and limitations.”
That’s what Reynolds was studying during the three-plus weeks he spent at Ford Meade in March and April. While there, he also knocked out his one-weekend-a-month-and-two-weeks-a-year obligations as a reservist so he wouldn’t have to travel back and forth once Seattle’s offseason program began in mid-April. He’s now officially attached to a unit in his hometown of Nashville and spent a week after OTAs at the Navy Operational Support Center there.
“You’re just kind of making sure you’re on top of everything,” he said from Fort Meade during a phone conversation with ESPN this spring. “You’ve got your medical and all that jazz, and everything that you need to get done to be able to quote-unquote deploy. That’s the responsibility of the drill weekends. And then the annual training is where you’re able to go and do your job. For me, my job right now is simply to get qualified to do my job.”
There’s no code-breaking or wind-talking yet.
“I go into a room and I study, learn about the job,” Reynolds said in March. “That’s pretty much I do all day.”
Pete Carroll is also in the dark about what Reynolds does in the Navy.
“I know very little,” Carroll said. “I know he scored a ton of touchdowns and they love him for it. He’s the most productive touchdown maker in the history of college football and the Navy is darn proud of him. I’m sure his other work is really good, too. I don’t know about it.”
Indeed, Reynolds broke the NCAA record with 88 rushing touchdowns during his four years in AnNapolis (2012-15) and broke the record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 4,559 while running the Midshipmen’s triple-option offense.
With that background and a 5-foot-10, 191-pound frame, Reynolds figured his NFL future would be at a position other than quarterback. When the Baltimore Ravens called to tell him they were drafting him in the sixth round in 2016, he had to ask then-GM Ozzie Newsome if they were going to put him at receiver.
Attending a service academy meant Reynolds didn’t enjoy the same freedoms as other college students, but it came with some memorable experiences. He recalled with pride how he got to shake President Barack Obama’s hand three times and attend a State of the Union address. There was also the time during a summer training session right before his senior year that he got an up-close look at an F-35 fighter jet taking off from the USS Wasp off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia.
“You don’t really realize how powerful the engines are until the plane is taking off above you and it shakes everything in the room and you feel like the room is about to explode,” he said, “and then it goes away.”
Reynolds briefly considered a post-Academy job in aviation as a naval flight officer, which was his backup selection. But he had long been interested in the intelligence field and was able to pursue it thanks to a well-timed change in Navy policy. Intelligence jobs used to be in what’s called the restricted line, meaning they were only available to those who had a medical issue such as colorblindness. That changed right before Reynolds graduated, allowing for direct commission as an unrestricted line officer.
There was another fortunate break.
For years, any graduate of a service academy hoping to pursue a professional sport wouldn’t be able to do so right away. They would first have to serve two years of active duty and then request reserve status in order to play. The Obama administration implemented a policy that allowed for the waiving of the active-duty requirement the year Reynolds graduated, allowing him to go directly into reserve status. He’ll be able to play football as long as he stays on top of his requirements as a reservist, and even if his NFL career ends before his eight-year obligation to the Navy is finished, he won’t revert to active status.
A year after the policy was revised, the two-year active-duty requirement was re-implemented.
“I caught it right at the perfect time,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds landed with the Seahawks during the 2018 offseason and went back and forth last year between their practice squad and 53-man roster as Doug Baldwin battled a string of injuries that led to his unofficial retirement. Reynolds was walking off the field after pregame warm-ups before the season opener against the Broncos in Denver when some autograph-seeking fans yelled his way. They thought he was Baldwin.
“I’m not Doug,” Reynolds told them with a smile.
He’s now trying to be, in a sense. Baldwin’s departure leaves an opening in the slot Reynolds is trying to help fill along with fellow roster hopefuls John Ursua, a seventh-round pick, and rookie free agent Terry Wright. They caught a potential break with the injuries to David Moore and DK Metcalf, which might compel the Seahawks to keep an extra receiver on their 53-man roster to begin the season.
Nate Carroll, though, notes that Reynolds can play any of the receiver positions and calls him “one of my most reliable guys.”
Carroll can tell he’s coaching a military man.
“There’s definitely a more professional approach to conversations, to learning, definitely more organized in that regard,” Carroll said. “Not necessarily like, ‘Yes, sir. No, sir,’ type of stuff. But he just has a professionalism to him that most guys don’t have. No disrespect to anybody else, but it’s clear to me. It’s hard to get him to smile at times. Obviously, we do. But he’s got a reservation to him where he doesn’t like to expose himself in certain areas. But he does a great job asking for personal advice, really specific commentary.”
Reynolds has yet to connect with Wilson (or any of Seattle’s other quarterbacks) for a catch in the preseason, but he’s otherWISe made a strong case to be kept. No small part of that is how he’s made a strong impression on his quarterback.
“He’s got something special to him,” Wilson said. “He’s doing everything he can to make our team. I think he’s a great player, you can trust him, he knows what he’s doing, he’s smart as can be, and he’s got a great attitude. I really, really love Keenan.”
But he still doesn’t know what Reynolds does in the Navy. It might be the only bit information at Seahawks headquarters that’s above Wilson’s $35-million-per-year pay grade.
“He didn’t tell me,” Wilson said. “That’s the thing. He didn’t really like give me anything. I was like, dang.
“I guess he’s doing his job, huh?”