The Final Play

After traumatic knee injury, Case Keenum has one more season to prove his talents.

Case's fiancée Kimberly Caddell also works for FCA as a marketing and event planner in the Houston office. Keenum and Caddell met each other through church when they were kids, but lost touch when they attended different high schools in Abilene. Years later, with Caddell on her way to studying communications at Hardin-Simmons, a Baptist liberal arts school located in Abilene, the two started dating after hitting it off at an event.

Around the same time, Keenum accepted an athletic scholarship from the University of Houston, and it turned out to be the only full ride offered to him. Keenum says that he could have waited to see if more schools would do the same, but didn't bother because he had developed a bond with former UH head coach Art Briles and ex-co-offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Philip Montgomery.

"One of the main reasons I chose U of H is because the coaches believed in me. I really, really liked the coaches that were here at the time," says Keenum of Briles and Montgomery. "I had solid relationships with those guys and I still do."

...only the University of Houston offered him a scholarship.
Photos by Tim Nelson
...only the University of Houston offered him a scholarship.
Keenum attempted a pass at UCLA on September 18, 2010, the last time the star quarterback saw game action.
Courtesy of UH Athletics
Keenum attempted a pass at UCLA on September 18, 2010, the last time the star quarterback saw game action.

During Keenum's final high school football game, a quarterfinal playoff match-up in November 2005 at Irving's Texas Stadium, the defending state champion Wylie Bulldogs trailed Gainesville 25-15. In the fourth quarter, Keenum, following a 38-yard touchdown scamper punctuated with an end-zone dive, brought his team to within three points. But on the play, he separated his shoulder, and his team eventually lost by three points.

Even though Keenum was now a significantly injured signee, Houston still honored its commitment.

Keenum, sporting a red Houston Cougars jersey, reaches the ball across the goal line for the go-ahead score against Texas Tech University. Forty-nine seconds later, the capacity crowd, which includes former UH and NBA stars Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, celebrates the Cougars' 29-28 victory that pushes Keenum's name into the Heisman talks.

This moment in September 2009 seemed impossible when Keenum arrived on campus in fall 2006 because he literally had no shot at playing. That's because Kevin Kolb, who began the 2010 NFL season as the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, had an all-star stronghold on UH's signal-caller position. On top of that, Keenum's bum throwing shoulder, which he re-aggravated during a high school all-star game the previous summer, was in no shape for game action.

In 2007, with Kolb off to professional football, Keenum, a redshirt freshman with a quick release and an ability to extend plays outside of the pocket, would eventually win a tough quarterback competition with Blake Joseph. However, the highs of his new gig would plummet.

On November 28, 2007, Briles and Montgomery, the only coaches in major college football to believe in Case enough to offer him a scholarship, decided to leave Houston for Baylor. The incident made Keenum feel "really bummed." On top of that, his girlfriend of two years remained 350 miles away in Abilene. During those confusing times, the distance felt even greater.

Though disappointed, Keenum says he never seriously considered transferring to another school or moving back home. Instead, the sophomore persevered in 2008 under first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin, guiding the nation's number-one rated offense to a 34-28 victory over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. It was the school's first bowl win in 28 years.

As Keenum became more engrained in the endless routine required to succeed at major college football, the sports administration major became just as obsessed with Texas country music, a genre introduced to him by his old roommate and former Cougar offensive lineman Jordan Shoemaker. To this day, the genre, as well as Jack Johnson and Mumford & Sons, can get the quiet Keenum talking for hours.

Keenum had his breakout year as a junior in 2009 and local sports fans, who had a dire case of the blahs due to years and years of futility from Houston's professional and college teams, finally had something to get behind. The 2009 Conference USA player of the year guided the team to a 10-4 record that included high-profile, come-from-behind wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.

Matt Jackson, co-host of Houston's Matt & Adam on KBME 790 AM, recalls how Keenum captivated local and national audiences. "Just the fact that he was putting up all of these unbelievable statistics and he was doing it on national TV put him on the map," he says. "It set them up where they were really legitimately thinking about an undefeated season in 2010."

From 2009 to 2010, the University of Houston — a school that, at best, sees middling interest in its sports programs — saw 5,167 in new season ticket sales out of an overall 11,477, an increase of 82 percent, which made UH the largest-growing fan base in major college football.

Keenum and the team's successes also helped new athletic director Mack Rhoades's plans for a stadium upgrade seem like a no-brainer. In October 2009, with the Keenum-led Cougars at their zenith, Rhoades commissioned a feasibility study on improving or replacing crumbling Robertson Stadium, the circa 1942 site originally constructed as a high school venue. The $160 million result, which the board of regents approved in June 2010, will be a new football stadium as well as upgrades to the Hofheinz Pavilion basketball arena.

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2 comments
Chris Lawless
Chris Lawless

OK I am in a giving mood. NCAA TD career record is 131 by Hawaii's Colt Brennan. ( Case has 107)Hawaii's Tommy Chang holds the passing yardage record, with 17,072 ( Case has 13,586).

No QB has 3 5000 yard seasons ( Case has two).

All reachable, and attainable last year too before injuries, but under-reported then too.

MGL_COOG
MGL_COOG

Cougar fans, get ready for an entertaining season. Get your tix while they last!!

 
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