For someone playing in the shadow of Jordan Poyer, Rashaad Reynolds is holding up to the pressure.
When opponents create an offensive game plan for the Oregon State football team, they make sure to point out where Poyer lines up to avoid throwing to his side of the field too often.
Poyer is the cornerback everyone knows about as the senior is on various postseason award watch lists and is considered an NFL prospect by draft analysts.
That means, in theory, the less-heralded Reynolds should be easier to beat. Well, that hasn’t worked out too well.
Reynolds has seen the most action of the two cornerbacks this season and has made play after play. He’s coming off a career game against Arizona last Saturday when he had an OSU record-tying five pass breakups, a team-leading 10 tackles and a game-securing interception.
“He played exceptionally well and I was very happy with his performance,” secondary coach Rod Perry said. “He has been practicing well in spring, camp and now. His practice and preparation led to that game. So I’m not surprised what he can do.”
Reynolds knew teams were going to pick on him because of Poyer’s recognition, so he did what he could to prepare.
“Most definitely. You can see it in the first few games,” Reynolds said. “I’ve been thrown to a lot, and that’s going to happen all year. Jordan is a great player. He got the respect for a reason. So they are going to come at me and I’m going to be ready for it.”
He hasn’t given up the big play, which is crucial with all the man coverage the Beavers play. His tight coverage allows him to be in position to stop a receiver if he runs a good route and the quarterback gets the ball there on time.
Reynolds leads the team with 25 tackles and is third in the Pac-12 with 8.3 a game.
His eight passes defended — an interception and seven breakups — leads the conference at 2.67 a game.
“Last year I was playing timid,” Reynolds said. “I wasn’t trying to make plays as much. I was just trying to do my job. This year I’m taking it to another level. I played a lot of downs last year, I’ve been here and I’m not as nervous. I’m just out there playing football.”
Reynolds, a junior from Pacoima, Calif., was thrust into the starting role last season when senior Brandon Hardin was lost for the season with a shoulder injury during training camp.
He was excited about the prospect of starting early in his career, but he had some concerns since cornerbacks in OSU’s scheme are asked to cover man-to-man much of the time.
Over the years, first-year corners have taken their lumps learning what to do. Reynolds was aware of that and wanted to avoid a similar fate.
“I didn’t want to be the guy who gave up the big play,” Reynolds said. “I played cautious. My first game playing corner I was starting. I didn’t really know how to play corner week in and week out yet.”
Being thrown into action helped his development. Reynolds leaned on Poyer and Hardin to guide him through. He was also advised by former Beaver James Dockery, who was in the NFL.
Reynolds was steady as a sophomore with 68 tackles, eight pass breakups and one interception.
Coach Mike Riley said his intelligence in how to play the position helps him excel. Cornerbacks must know their technique, experience the game and play on instincts.
All that is coming together for Reynolds now.
“He has put in a lot of good physical work,” Riley said. “Rashaad is smart. He used his experience to be a better player. Through the experience of playing and hard work in the offseason he became a terrific player.”
Reynolds’ athletic ability has been there. He started out as a kickoff returner as a freshman and was a sprinter in track meets last spring.
His emergence gives the Beavers a stellar cornerback combo. Teams are learning they can’t avoid one because the other makes the play.
“I think we are one of the best (tandems) out there,” Reynolds said.
Perry, who is in his first season working with the cornerbacks, believes the eagerness to learn led to his improved knowledge.
“What he wants to do is learn,” Perry said. “That really jumped out at me when I first met him. We saw a few things to adjust. He then ran with it and is now playing with a lot of confidence.”