Injured Houston QB’s career at a crossroads as he mulls return, draft

Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle

Sept. 29, 2010, 3:54PM

Nick de la Torre Houston Chronicle

Injured UH quarterback Case Keenum attended the Coogs' win over Tulane last Saturday.


Houston Cougars quarterback Case Keenum underwent successful surgery on his injured right knee, head coach Kevin Sumlin said Wednesday.

Dr. Walter R. Lowe — the team physician of the Texans, Rockets and UH — did reconstructive surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Keenum suffered the season-ending injury trying to make a tackle after an interception during a 31-13 defeat against UCLA on Sept. 18. A fifth-year senior from Abilene Wylie, Keenum is fifth in NCAA history in passing yardage (13,586) and eighth in touchdown passes (107).


UH QB Keenum ponders future as surgery looms

Case Keenum is still working his way through a bewildering swirl of thoughts and emotions, of past tense, present and future.

His mind keeps gravitating toward the future, as uncertain as it may be. The future offers more hope, more possibilities, than the painful and unchangeable present.

Keenum is hobbling around on crutches, unable to continue his duties as the Houston Cougars’ starting quarterback and unofficial coach on the field. The senior season for which Keenum sweated and sacrificed so much ended abruptly when he blew out his right knee in the third game. Dr. Walter R. Lowe — the team physician of the Cougars, Texans and Rockets — will perform reconstructive surgery on Keenum today to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Unless Keenum receives a special medical hardship waiver from the NCAA, he has played his final college game. Given the timing of the injury, Keenum will be hard-pressed to put his best foot forward for prospective NFL teams before next April’s draft.

Rock, meet hard place.

“I want to play football for the Cougars — right now,” Keenum said. “This next Saturday. But that’s not going to happen. As far as the future, there’s no telling. I want to play football. I don’t know where that’s going to be. That’s something I love doing; it’s a big part of me.”

Speaking publicly for the first time since he suffered his season-ending injury, Keenum said Tuesday he doesn’t know how he’ll proceed. Keenum, an eighth-place finisher in the 2009 Heisman Trophy voting and the UH career passing leader, can petition the NCAA for another season of eligibility. He plans to graduate in December, and the 2011 NFL draft is next April 28-30.

The season began with Keenum on track to become the NCAA’s career leader in passing yardage and touchdown passes. It will end with so much left undone for Keenum, an Abilene native who had longed for one last chance to lead the team to a Conference USA title.

“This is not a fun experience, and I don’t wish it on anybody, but I’ve said this about a lot of things: It could be worse,” Keenum said. “It’s never as good as it seems, and it’s never as bad as it seems.”

UH coach Kevin Sumlin will not give advice to Keenum about what do to in the future unless asked for it.

“As I told him point blank, ‘You’ve done everything you can for the University of Houston,’ ” Sumlin said. “ ‘You don’t owe us anything. If you want to come back, I’ll be the first one to shake your hand — and probably hug you and everything else — but you need to think about yourself. You’ve done so much for this program and this university.’

“I don’t know where, but I don’t think you’ve see the last of him playing. And it shouldn’t be.”

Appeal no done deal

Keenum is trying to decide whether to file an appeal with the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. According to the waiver criteria laid out in of the NCAA Division I Manual, such an appeal could be problematic:

A waiver of the five-year period of eligibility is designed to provide a student-athlete with the opportunity to participate in four seasons of intercollegiate competition within a five-year period. This waiver may be granted, based upon objective evidence, for reasons that are beyond the control of the student-athlete or the institution that deprive the student-athlete of the opportunity to participate for more than one season in his

her sport within the five-year period.

The NCAA does not consider taking a redshirt year, which Keenum did in 2006, to be beyond an athlete’s control.

“The good thing is that no matter which way I go, I’m going to push to get healthy as quickly as I can,” said Keenum, who is fifth in NCAA history with 13,586 passing yards. “It really doesn’t matter where I’m playing. I’d like to know (what the future holds). ... But that’s not really the pressing issue right now. The pressing issue is to get completely healthy.”

For Keenum to be eligible to play in 2011, he’d have to be enrolled in school next spring. The session starts Jan. 18. The NFL draft, meanwhile, falls seven months after Keenum’s surgery. New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker turned heads with eight catches in the 2010 season opener just eight months after tearing an ACL against the Texans.

Another variable: The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement expires in March, opening the possibility of the owners locking out the players for the 2011 season.

“Depending on if he does the rehab right and he doesn’t suffer any setbacks, he should be able to throw for scouts close to the draft,” said one AFC scout, who requested anonymity. “He won’t be able to go through a bunch of the drills, because they’re about mobility and agility, but doctors will be able to tell how the surgery went, how he’s recovering and if his timetable’s on schedule.” had Keenum graded as a fourth-round 2011 pick and the seventh-best quarterback prospect. According to the Scout rankings, Keenum is behind Washington’s Jake Locker, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett, Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, Florida State’s Christian Ponder and Delaware’s Pat Devlin in the pecking order.

“If you look at the top guys that will or could come out, it could be a great quarterback draft,” said an NFC scout, who requested anonymity. “I think (Keenum) would have been a mid-round prospect. He lacks size and isn’t real fast. He’s got the intangibles, leadership and toughness, and he’s got a decent arm.”

‘He’s going to be fine’

Keenum long ago grew accustomed to having to prove he’s better than advertised. He arrived at UH as a lightly recruited two-star prospect.

“I just feel fortunate to be around him for the last three years,” Sumlin said. “We’ll see what happens, but like I told him, he’s going to be successful no matter what happens. It’s not what happens to you. It’s how you react in those situations that’s going to define you. And he’s going to be fine.”