The Final Play

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

Leading up to Keenum's senior season in 2010, the national media went nuts over his chances of shattering multiple NCAA marks, leading his team to an undefeated season and vying for a dark-horse run at the Heisman Trophy. In early August, a few weeks before the Cougars' 2010 season opener, Keenum took a tour to New York City and Bristol, Connecticut (Keenum's first to that part of the country) and interviewed with The Wall Street Journal and the Sports Illustrated Web site.

Keenum was also shown off during a four-minute-plus television spot on ESPN's College Football Live. After a brief highlight reel and on-air chat, show co-host Erik Kuselias closed the segment by saying, "We're already looking forward to an awful lot of touchdown passes this fall from Case Keenum and the Houston Cougars."
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Case Keenum, decked out in workout clothes, limps down an upstairs hallway of the University of Houston athletics center. Today is the middle of spring break so the building is devoid of most of its occupants, including Keenum's teammates, who are visiting family or yukking it up on the beach.

A week before tearing his ACL, Keenum, who was touted as a Heisman hopeful, suffered a game-ending concussion against UTEP.
Christopher Patronella Jr.
A week before tearing his ACL, Keenum, who was touted as a Heisman hopeful, suffered a game-ending concussion against UTEP.
Even after former UH coach Art Briles took the Baylor job, Case never seriously considered leaving his surrogate family.
Chris Curry
Even after former UH coach Art Briles took the Baylor job, Case never seriously considered leaving his surrogate family.

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Keenum, meanwhile, has just completed another rehabilitation session. He's doing something every day, ranging from exhausting leg exercises four times a week to general strengthening, in hopes of returning to 100 percent.

The quarterback experienced an explosive start to the 2010 season. On September 4 against Texas State University, Keenum broke school marks for completions and passing yards while leading the Cougars to a 68-28 win in front of the largest crowd ever to see a UH game at Robertson Stadium.

After suffering a concussion the next week during a home victory over UTEP, Keenum's head would clear in time for the Cougars' first road test of 2010 on September 18. With his team down 21-3 to the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl Stadium, Keenum's 45-yard scramble to the UCLA two-yard line shifted the game's momentum, and the classic Keenum-led comeback seemed to be on.

On the next play, Keenum's errant throw was intercepted by Bruin defensive star and future NFL Draft pick Akeem Ayers. As the frustrated quarterback tried to tackle Ayers in the open field, Keenum missed, landed face mask first and lay motionless.

"When Case fell," says Mikado Hinson, the University of Houston's chaplain, FCA campus director and one of Keenum's best buds, "I literally found myself three or four steps on the field yelling, 'No! No! No!' and screaming, 'Get up!' I wasn't even thinking about the season. I'm thinking this is my buddy, this is my guy and he's down. I really keep my emotions in check about a lot of things, but I found myself crying."

Keenum would eventually make his way to the sidelines, but with a life-changing injury and a struggle that continues to this day.

A week and a half later, Dr. Walter R. Lowe, the team physician for the Houston Cougars, Rockets and Texans, performed successful reconstruction surgery on Keenum's torn ACL. When an ACL ligament ruptures, which it did in Keenum's case, the rubber-band-like stabilizer tears in either the middle of the knee or from the top or bottom bones, according to Dr. Steven Flores, an orthopedic surgeon at Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine Institute/UTHealth.

Flores explains that rather than sewing the torn ligament back together, the sophisticated procedure requires a ligament reconstruction with the aid of a patient's own tendon, such as a hamstring graft, or materials from a cadaver. For younger athletes like Keenum, "The return-to-play rate is fairly high, but the question always is if a player can get back to the same or higher level that they were at before," says Flores. (To date, there aren't any studies on successful return-to-play rates for college athletes and only a few for NFL players. The doctors whom the Houston Press spoke with for this story say that those results are flawed because they don't account for factors such as a player's age and injury history.)

On top of fighting back from such a serious injury, there was the added complication of Keenum's eligibility.

College athletes are entitled to participate in four seasons of their respective sport during a five-year eligibility period. At the time, Keenum had technically exhausted both of these clauses. However, under special circumstances, such as unforeseen injury, waivers are sometimes granted to extend that period to six years. In most cases, the appeal process is long and unpredictable; it often takes the NCAA up to six months to make a decision.

So with a shredded knee, a looming unknown on his athletic future and the fact that he couldn't get out of bed or feed himself without assistance, Keenum was in a rotten emotional place. "The first two weeks after the surgery were pretty terrible," says Keenum.

It also seemed plausible, in Keenum's jumbled mind, that he had become a burden to his surrogate family. "I felt like I let down my teammates and coaches. I know it's God's plan and that's the way it is, but sometimes you just can't help but feel like that sometimes."

Then came rehabilitation, which can be very painful, with doctors pushing down on trouble areas. During certain sessions, "[Case] was nearly in tears," recalls Hinson.

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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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