Keith Reineke: Overcoming Obstacles to Win

The last time Keith Reineke played a meaningful snap on the defensive side of the gridiron as safety, he was a senior at McGregor High School. Since then he has only spent nine days as a safety: as a second stringer at an NCAA Division III program at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (UMHB).

So who would expect Reineke to play safety at the professional level? Yet, that is precisely what Reineke plans to do. He will participate in the NFL’s regional combine in New Orleans on March 12 to showcase his skill set and athleticism in hopes of signing with an NFL franchise at safety.

Reineke has already fielded calls from interested NFL teams. Growing up in Texas, he was actually a fan of the Minnesota Vikings. And if Reineke somehow finds his way to the land of 10,000 lakes he will keep the same purple and gold colors as his alma mater, but not the same position.

But switching positions is nothing new for the 6-foot, 205-pound redhead from central Texas. In fact, Reineke’s path to what he hopes can be an NFL contract has included starting at five different positions on both sides of the ball, four different schools, three transfers, two Division I rejections and one national championship.

And to anyone who knows Reineke—or listens to him speak— it’s not hard to identify his team first attitude and quickly understand why he has accepted numerous roles. He puts the team first above himself and just wants to win.

An all around athlete, Reineke grew up participating in any sport that he could. Reineke explained, "I loved competing. Growing up, my dad let me play any sport I wanted. I played football, basketball, baseball, and I ran track." He started playing quarterback in junior high school and was called up to the varsity football team to play safety and be backup quarterback.

When the senior quarterback suffered a career-ending hip injury in week four, the sophomore Reineke had to grow up fast. Reineke remembered that night, "it was my first start on a senior loaded team, we had a crap ton of seniors." He played both sides of the ball and led the team to a 13-1 record and the state semifinals.

He continued to play both sides of the ball his junior year before a thumb injury on his throwing hand forced his first position change. He went to running back, mostly from the wildcat formation, and then wide receiver to help his team win.

Growing up, the goal was to always play for Baylor University. Being from the McGregor and Temple area, the Bears were always on Reineke’s mind. Due to injuries and position changes, however, Reineke never got a true look from college scouts.

When Reineke was passed over by Baylor in favor of another wide receiver recruit, the goal remained the same and his dream did not waiver:

"At Baylor there was one spot open, and it was a toss up between me and this other guy. All that was missing was an SAT/ACT score; the week I went to go take [the test] Baylor University gave the scholarship to the other guy. So I was going to have to try as a walk-on; so that was in my mind: I was going to go to Baylor as a walk-on and try to work my way up the ladder from there."

That’s when a family friend suggested UMHB, a Division III university that is the winningest football program in Texas. The driving factor was the opportunity to pioneer a new stadium, receive a lot of playing time and win. The chance to pioneer a new frontier for the Crusaders was "eye-opening" so Reineke took it.

In the 2012 season, Reineke was a special teams starter in his first year at UMHB, and started as a wide receiver beginning in week four against their rival Hardin-Simmons all the way to their semifinal playoff loss at Mount Union. In the debut season of their new stadium in 2013, he started every single game as wide receiver.

This is where the journey gets complicated and confusing for Reineke. Reineke decided to leave Mary Hardin-Baylor to pursue his life long football team of playing at Baylor University. Why leave what he was building at UMHB?

Reineke simply said, "it was an extremely hard decision to leave, but fortunately I had a great group of friends who understood where I was coming from. This was a lifetime goal; I didn’t want to look back at my college career and say what if. It was a personal goal of mine, my dream, and [my teammates and coaches] supported me 100 percent, but it was still really hard to leave these guys behind."

So he packed his bags and transferred to McLennan Community College (MCC) for the 2013 spring semester in preparation to attend and play for Baylor University. He worked with coach Brian Norwood, the Baylor defensive coordinator, and was placed on the 150-man roster. However, according to Baylor’s transfer rules a player must have completed their associates degree when transferring in from a junior college.

Therefore, Reineke stayed at MCC for the fall of 2014, when the Bears went on to capture their second consecutive Big XII title, and worked to transfer in the spring. However, once again Reineke could not clear the Baylor compliance office.

In order for junior college transfers to be eligible to play at Baylor, the university mandates a 2.5 grade point average. Reineke had a 2.96 GPA with 73-hour credits, yet Baylor would accept only 50 hours. Of those 50 hours, Reineke only had a 2.48 GPA.

For example, Baylor University requires all students to complete the Christian Heritage and Christian Scriptures courses. Reineke had taken two courses, one on the New Testament and one on the Old Testament, and done well. However, Baylor would only accept one of those two courses.

It was an unfortunate and disheartening blow for Reineke, who found himself left with only one option: return back to UMHB.

Reineke still finds it difficult to put into words saying, "I was just sitting there. I was shocked; I was stunned; I couldn’t believe what I just heard. I went home, and my parents and everyone were shocked; my mom started crying. We were all sitting there thinking what are we going to do now; and I was like well looks like we’re going back to UMHB."

It was difficult to go back to his teammates and coaches after taking what essentially became a year off from football. However, Reineke had left on good terms with everyone at Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Coach Pete Fredenburg said that if the unit council, the team captains that represent the team, approved, then I was welcome to come back and join the team and work to re-earn a spot. His teammates welcomed him back with open arms, and the coaches moved him to backup safety.

After nine days of practice, including the inter squad scrimmage, they moved Reineke’s position to backup Will (weak side) Linebacker. The success of the team is imperative, and Reineke is not one to say no to a coach. It was this team first mentality that was the reason he was not only welcomed back, but also considered a valuable asset.

A year of learning at the weak side linebacker position did Reineke well, and he was prepared for his senior campaign in 2016. Still, his development and performance was not where the coaches wanted it to be by the season opener against the Ohio Wesleyan Battling Bishops and he moved down on the depth chart.

Reineke remembers being angry saying, "Coach Fred knew my potential, but at the time I really wasn’t progressing as fast as he wanted me to. So to get me kick started, he moved me down to second string Will Linebacker the week of our opening game." But Reineke also knew that he needed to respond positively to this new adversity emphasizing, "They wanted to see how I would answer."

Reineke therefore had two answer choices: 1) he could get angry and let feelings of entitlement rush over him or 2) he could respond to one last piece of adversity and prove himself once more to his coaches, teammates and himself that he belonged here.

Reineke chose the latter and when he got playing time, proved himself as a staple in coach Fredenburg and linebacker coach Jack Johnson’s defensive scheme. He even had an interception to go along with nine tackles that first game. From that point forward it was all about taking the season one game at a time for Reineke and the team.

The turning point in the season that gave the Crusaders a feeling of legitimacy was when they cruised in week three against the Linfield Wildcats 66-27 who had beaten them in the playoffs the year before. Reineke had eight tackles, and began to feel that this team could be special.

Then they defeated their archrival Hardin-Simmons 20-15 in week seven, which would provide even more legitimacy for the Crusaders. Reineke had nine tackles, and the game would be their closest margin of victory until they hosted Mount Union in the playoff semifinals.

Reineke and company made sure they capitalized this time around when they hosted Mount Union. It was an opportunity to avenge their road loss to Mount Union from the 2012 semifinals. Only Reineke, and his best friend safety Hunter Schmidt, were on the team in 2012 for that loss, and they still adamantly believe they let it slip away.

Reineke and the Crusaders’ defense had held their opponents to 13.9 points per game on the year, and held Mount Union to 12 points in that semifinal. That was aided by a fourth quarter interception by Reineke, an interception by Ajay Fanene and a fake punt executed by punter Baylor Mullins to seal the Crusader’s first appearance in the national championship game (named the Stagg Bowl) since 2004.

UMHB faced the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh in the Stagg Bowl. It was going to be a defensive struggle, and it was the job of Reineke and company to stop the run to cement a championship.

Reineke had nine tackles in the championship against Oshkosh, a few on one of the most punishing running backs in Dylan Hecker he has ever had to face. Reineke also recognized the main target on the final offensive play for Oshkosh: a fourth and 11 where Reineke pressed up his man coverage to disrupt the number one receiver’s route. What resulted was a check down across the middle and a championship-winning interception by teammate and middle linebacker Matt Cody.

Keith Reineke’s journey was unconventional. It twisted and turned from McGregor to Belton and Waco and back to Belton again. Now the path leads to New Orleans and then an NFL city.

If you’re an NFL team looking for a steal most likely in free agency, this could very well be your guy. Reineke checks all of the intangibles: competitive spirit, team first mentality and coachable.

But Reineke also checks the boxes on the field too: athletic, versatile and high football IQ. He holds the UMHB school record with a 3.83 second shuttle run to compliment a 4.42 40-yard dash, a 10-foot five-inch broad jump and 39-inch vertical leap.

In New Orleans, there will be no island on the line for Reineke; no sponsorships or first round draft talk. Instead there will be a new dream, a new football opportunity in front of the 23-year-old.

You can bet that he will do whatever it takes to find the same level of success he did at Mary Hardin-Baylor.

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