The Houston Cougars knew they were going to have to eventually make the transition. They just weren't counting on that transition coming during the middle of this season's third game.
But it was during the second quarter of the Cougars' loss to the UCLA Bruins that quarterback Case Keenum tried to chase down the guy who had the temerity to intercept one of his passes.
Keenum tore his ACL in an attempt to make the tackle, putting the senior quarterback out for the rest of the season. Keenum undergoes surgery to repair his ACL today, and his future, as well as the future of the Cougars is up in the air.
"The first thing you do is start thinking about your future," Keenum said yesterday. "And it seems like every thought, every possibility's run through my head. But the fact is, I don't know. There's a lot of unknowns now."
Keenum's thoughts at the moment are on his surgery, and getting through that surgery. There are several players on the Cougars who have suffered through season-ending injuries, and he's getting guidance from them. He's also heard from Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin who this season is returning from the ACL he tore last season.
Another influence on Keenum as he attempts to get through his injury while contemplating his future is Drew Brees, the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints who was essentially unwanted in the NFL after suffering a shoulder injury. Keenum has not met or heard from Brees, but he had read Brees's book before suffering his injury, and he stated he will be returning to the book following the surgery.
"I just got through reading Drew Brees's new book...and I think that's helped me a lot," Keenum said. "I may have to re-read here pretty quick. He talked about adversity...he talks about coming back stronger, and how adversity is an opportunity."
Keenum is a spiritual person, and he has turned to religion in an attempt to get through this season, and what has happened.
"This is not a fun experience, and I don't wish this on anybody," he said. "But at the same time, and I've said about a lot of things, it could be worse. It's never as good as it seems, and it's never as bad as it seems. I've said that about a lot of different things. I guess this is kind of God letting me live that out. Kind of putting that in my path there. So I'm going to have to kind of walk what I've been talking for a long time now. It's definitely one of those deals -- it's not fun, but we're going to get through it one day at a time."
After the surgery, Keenum's future is up in the air. He's convinced that he will come back from the surgery mentally and physically stronger. But he is a senior who is close to graduation, and he will need NCAA permission to redshirt and come back next season, if that is what he desires. Even if that is what he desires, what the NCAA would decide if asked is debatable. And even if the NCAA were to give its approval to Keenum's return, the question that will need to be asked is whether that is what is actually the best for Keenum.
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"What's best for him which is a lot different than he ever thinks," head coach Kevin Sumlin said about Keenum's decision. "He's always thinking about the good of everything else, other people. At this point, that's what's important [thinking about what's best for Keenum], and it's okay to do that. Basically because he has done so much for this program, and the University of Houston. I don't know, I told him don't worry about that. You don't owe us anything. You have done a tremendous amount for this community, on and off the field. This decision needs to be based on what's best for you."
And what does Keenum want after the surgery? That answer is simple. He wants to be a quarterback.
"I want to play football," he said. "I don't know where that's going to be, but it's something that I love doing. That's a big part of me. It's hard to say. That's the deal. It's just a tough deal, and it's a tough deal no matter how you look at it."
The Cougars and Case Keenum are in a time of transition. The Cougars knew that, at some point, he would no longer be their quarterback. And Keenum knew that he would no longer be the team's quarterback after this season. They just didn't expect that to happen in game three.