Football

Charlotte 49ers quarterback Chris Reynolds is a gamer and keeps bouncing back

Charlotte 49ers quarterback Chris Reynolds (3) scores against Gardner-Webb in a 49-28 season-opening victory on Aug. 29.
Charlotte 49ers quarterback Chris Reynolds (3) scores against Gardner-Webb in a 49-28 season-opening victory on Aug. 29. The Charlotte Observer

Charlotte 49ers quarterback Chris Reynolds continues to beat back challenges.

Challenges from high school coaches who thought he was too short to play and college recruiters who felt the same way. From continued competition for the 49ers’ starting quarterback job with players with perhaps more polished pedigrees. From a potentially devastating injury that derailed a promising freshman season.

But there Reynolds will be Saturday, all 5-10, 192 pounds of him, firmly entrenched once again as the starter when the 49ers (1-1) take on Massachusetts (0-2) in a nonconference game at Richardson Stadium.

Just what is it about Reynolds?

“He just competes,” first-year 49ers coach Will Healy said after Reynolds threw for a career-high 296 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 76 yards in a 56-41 loss against Appalachian State last week.

An oversimplification? Possibly. Now a sophomore, Reynolds has overcome enough since his days as a lightly recruited quarterback at Mocksville’s Davie County High that it’s obvious there’s more to it. Intangibles like determination and the ability to lead also come to mind.

Those are among the traits that have helped Reynolds reclaim his spot as Charlotte’s starter.

“It’s not the first time he’s dealt with these kinds of challenges,” said Dan Reynolds, Chris’ father. “It started when he was a sophomore in high school. It’s something he’s used to.”

Although Reynolds set several season- and career-passing records at Davie County, he received little attention from college recruiters. That’s what happens when you’re 5-10, not the size that major-college programs are looking for in a quarterback.

The only offer Reynolds received was from Division II Catawba. Looking for something more, he walked on at Charlotte, a start-up program that was still in only its fifth season of existence and third in the Football Bowl Subdivision’s Conference USA.

After redshirting his first season, Reynolds proved he belonged on the FBS level by beating out 2017 starter Hasaan Klugh and Evan Sherriffs (a grad transfer from Miami), for Charlotte’s starting job. He was effective early in the season, leading the 49ers to two victories in their first five games — double the number of wins Charlotte had the entire previous season.

In those games, Reynolds threw for more than 1,000 yards yards and six touchdowns. Reynolds was also versatile, using his quickness and speed to become an effective weapon with his feet.

But in Charlotte’s sixth game, at home against Western Kentucky, Reynolds went down with a badly injured right ankle. The ankle wasn’t broken, but there was severe damage to the ligaments and tendons.

“Shredded,” is how Dan Reynolds said the doctor described the injury.

A relentless spirit

Reynolds was through for the season. His stats in five-plus games: 100-of-154 passes completed (64.9percent) for 1,173 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions.

Reynolds had surgery to repair the damage. After that, he would go into full-rehab mode.

Next came Reynolds’ relentless spirit.

“It was supposed to be a six-month full recovery; I got it done in four,” Reynolds said. “It was just determination, putting in the extra effort. I could just have easily done the standard protocol, done a certain amount of exercises. But I pushed the pace a little bit so I got to full mobility quicker.”

Reynolds was immobile for a few weeks after the surgery. All he could do after his ankle came out of the cast was some basic rotation exercises. He graduated to walking around the training room, then on to the Stairmaster and treadmill.

It was a difficult time.

“The lowest moments were still in the season, when I was locked up in the training room and I’d see my teammates walking out to practice every day,” Reynolds said. “But that installed some determination in me. I was locked in: ‘I’ve got to get back.’ That I am going to be better than I was.”

When Reynolds returned to school after winter break, he was ready to do more, to continue to accelerate his rehab.

“It got to be all about phases,” Reynolds said. “The walking phase; the jogging phase; the cutting phase.”

Working with staff members like head trainer A.J. Lukjanczuk and director of football performance Chris Laskowski, Reynolds was gradually able to participate in conditioning drills.

“A couple of those early sessions, Chris wasn’t at full speed, and he was losing some races,” Laskowski said. “We had to pull him out of some drills a few times. But he wasn’t limited for very long.”

Laskowski and the rest of the new coaching staff were learning something about Reynolds.

“My first impression because he’s my height, is he must be a dude,” said Laskowski, who is also 5-10 and started his college football career as a walk-on at Florida Atlantic. “He began as a walk-on, too, so, I thought, ‘I get you; you’ve got that edge.’

“We figured out pretty quickly he’s one of those natural leaders. He doesn’t have to be loud. He’s authentic.”

By the time spring practice rolled around in March, Reynolds was nearly back to full strength.

“He didn’t complain, he didn’t pull himself out of any drills,” Laskowski said. “We might have said a few times, ‘Hey, you may have to temper it back a bit here.’ And he’d say, ‘Yeah, coach, you’re probably right.’ ”

By that time, another obstacle had been presented to Reynolds. Sherriffs was still around to compete for the starting job, but another grad transfer from an FBS program — Brett Kean from South Florida — had also joined the 49ers.

Earning his starting job back would now be that much more of a challenge. But it’s one Reynolds said he welcomed.

“It’s just competition, we should all embrace it,” Reynolds said. “It makes us all better. It makes the whole team better.”

A close QB competition

Reynolds and Kean were neck-and-neck in preseason camp. Healy repeatedly said neither quarterback had separated himself from the other but finally named Kean the starter for the season opener against Gardner-Webb.

After two ineffective series under Kean, Reynolds entered the game midway through the first quarter. He led Charlotte to touchdowns on its next four possessions on the way to a 49-28 victory.

There is no doubt Reynolds is now Charlotte’s starter, although Healy says Kean will still play. Last Saturday, Reynolds played the whole game at Appalachian State.

“Chris stepped up time after time after time after time,” Healy said of Reynolds’ performance against the Mountaineers. “He made some big throws. He took some shots. But he kept popping back up.

“I felt like Chris was the definition of what our team was today and that’s a group of fighters.”

Next up for the 49ers is UMass, which jumped out to a 28-point lead in the first quarter on the way to a 49-31 victory against Charlotte last season.

“We learned a lot from the App State game,” Reynolds said. “But Monday morning, we flushed that game. We’re focused on UMass now.”

David Scott: @davidscott14

UMass at Charlotte

When: 6 p.m., Saturday

Where: Richardson Stadium, Charlotte

Watch: ESPN3

Listen: 730-AM.

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