Charlotte 49ers quarterback Chris Reynolds not only knew he wanted to play major-college football, he was also certain he could play major-college football.
The problem for Reynolds, at the time a star quarterback at Davie County High in Mocksville, was finding a Football Bowl Subdivision program that felt the same way about him.
Although he set several passing records during his career with the War Eagles, Reynolds was overlooked not only by FBS recruiters, but also those from Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) teams - and there are plenty of those in the Carolinas. He got feelers from Division II Catawba and Division III N.C. Wesleyan and a few other small schools in Virginia. That, however, was it.
What was keeping the bigger schools away? An all-too familiar reason for a quarterback who is not at least 6-foot-3. Although Reynolds threw for for 5,635 yards and 58 touchdowns in high school, was his league’s player of the year as a senior and played in the Shrine Bowl - he did so while standing 5-11. That’s an unpardonable sin in the eyes of many an FBS recruiter.
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“That’s it,” Reynolds said, laughing. “I was told all the way through high school that I was too short. But my dad always told me that people will tell you what they want you to do. You tell them what you think you can do.”
Reynolds eventually found a team willing to give him a chance. He will start at quarterback for the 49ers (1-0) on Saturday when they face Appalachian State (0-1) in Richardson Stadium. After redshirting in 2017, Reynolds won the job in August, beating out 2017 starter Hasaan Klugh and Miami transfer Evan Shirreffs.
The 49ers first saw Reynolds when he attended one of their summer football camps. But Charlotte wasn’t completely sold on Reynolds at first, either, only offering to make him a preferred walk-on, meaning he’d be on the team but without a scholarship. Reynolds jumped at the opportunity and spent the 2017 season playing with the scout team.
Something about Reynolds intrigued 49ers coaches. Although he didn’t show extraordinary arm strength, he was accurate. He didn’t scramble as a habit, but he was elusive enough to stay away from would-be tacklers. And he had a knack for making the right decision, whatever the defense threw at him.
“He was making plays for the scout team and that caught our eye,” 49ers coach Brad Lambert said. “The defensive kids were having a hard time getting their hands on him and he was driving them crazy.”
After the 49ers went 1-11 in 2017, Lambert threw the competition for the quarterback job open. In the spring, Reynolds nosed ahead of Klugh, who was not as well suited to new offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery’s pro-style system. Reynolds nailed down the spot during August’s preseason camp, although a hamstring injury limited Shirreffs.
“The competition has been really healthy,” said Reynolds, whose sister Amanda played soccer at East Carolina. “We’re always pushing each other. We learn off each other and help each other out. “I’m grateful that I was able to pull it out.”
In the 49ers’ 34-10 season-opening victory against Fordham last Saturday, Reynolds completed 13-of-20 passes for 267 yards and a touchdown, despite being sacked three times in the first half.
“I thought he handled it pretty good,” Lambert said of Reynolds’ debut. “He was a little nervous early in the game. (Fordham) got after him a little bit and knocked him around a little bit. He had to keep his composure.”
Said tailback Benny LeMay: “He’s always made plays since he got here, so nothing surprises me. He’s always been a playmaker and we expect that every week. He handles things better than you’d think a redshirt freshman would. How he controls the team and leads us, I’m excited to see how he’ll do.”
The competition will be substantially tougher for Reynolds and the 49ers on Saturday against Appalachian State, another nearby FBS program that showed little if any interest in him. But Reynolds holds no grudges.
“I went to a couple of their camps and they liked me and talked to me some,” Reynolds said. “They’d come by the school to say hi to me. But they were looking at other people.”
Besides, Reynolds (who is now on scholarship) knows his story isn’t necessarily unique. He points to the path taken by Baker Mayfield, last season’s Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma and the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. Mayfield started his college career as a walk-on at Texas Tech, then transferred to Oklahoma, where he also began as a walk-on.
“I love his attitude, although some people have questioned his attitude,” Reynolds said of the often-controversial Mayfield. “But being a walk-on twice, he had people telling him he couldn’t do it. But he knew he could play at this level.”
“I’m also a big Brett Favre guy and a big Peyton Manning guy. Favre’s heart and Manning’s mind. And, of course, Russell Wilson, the cliche, short quarterback.”
At 5-11, the Seattle Seahawks’ Wilson has become one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks. That’s inspiring to Reynolds.
“I’m going to take a challenge,” Reynolds said. “And at the end of the day, I’ll be thankful that I took the hard road.”