This fall, senior Tago Smith replaces four-year starter Keenan Reynolds as the quarterback of Navy’s vaunted triple-option offense. He’s also replacing an Annapolis legend.
Reynolds, who is currently in the Baltimore Ravens camp trying to earn a spot as a wide receiver, broke the all-time FBS touchdown record with 88 career scores. He also ran for 4,500 yards, threw for another 4,000, and led the Mids to three bowl victories in four appearances.
Tago (pronounced tog-o) patiently served as Reynolds’ understudy through his first three years, and in limited opportunities proved himself as a capable starter.
“Obviously, Keenan was a really good football player, a big part of our program. But we’re excited about Tago,” said Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo. “This is his time, and he’s paid the price.”
Last year Smith played in eight of the Mids’ 13 games, passing for one touchdown and running for another. He also came in to spell an injured Reynolds against Notre Dame and led the Mids to two scores late in the game’s first half in the loss at South Bend.
As a sophomore in 2014, he started two games when Reynolds was sidelined due to injuries; both proved Navy victories. In his first career start on the road against Texas State, Smith ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more in a 35-21 victory. A month later he started his second game and earned his second win against the Southern Conference’s VMI. At the time, the victory also snapped a three-game losing streak for Navy and kept them in the hunt for a bowl game bid.
“It feels good. I’m ready to go,” said Smith of being the starter. “It’s not different at all. We come out here, and we play football. It’s a game we love. I’m confident in my ability and I’m confident in the guys around me, so I’m ready to get out there,” said Smith.
While most attention will be trained on Smith this fall, the Mids’ offense lost 10 of 11 starters from 2015. Its only returner is senior wide receiver Jamir Tillman. Fortunately for Smith and Navy, he’s one of the most talented players to play his position since the run-dominated offense arrived in Annapolis in 2002. Tillman had 29 receptions and five touchdowns last year and has stood out this summer to date.
“He’s as good as we’ve ever had here,” said Niumatalolo of Tillman. “He’s not only a great receiver, he’s also a great blocker; he’s a great leader.”
Smith, who will wear No. 2 this season, will vie to be a more vocal leader, a role he admits he’s not taken frequently in the past. He’ll also benefit from the Navy’s practice of giving its No. 2 quarterback as many reps as its starter.
“You get reps out here, and you see it actually put into place. It’s easy … when you see it on the board. You get more work when you see it out in person,” said Smith.
Smith was a versatile athlete at Fayette County (Ga.) High School, earning letters in four sports — baseball, football, tennis and track & field. As a prospect in 2012, he clearly showed an aptitude for a role in a triple-option offense. He earned offers from Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, and Navy. All were option teams (Georgia Southern has since changed schemes), and all three offenses were developed under current Tech head coach and option-adherent Paul Johnson.
After a postgraduate year at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., the 5-10 right-handed passer began as a slot back or A-back in Navy’s offense. When injuries thinned the depth chart at quarterback in 2013, Smith successfully moved to quarterback.
On Sept. 3, against Fordham, he takes his critical next step as the new Navy leader.