Case Keenum: UH's Newest Grad Student

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John Royal
Case Keenum addresses the media on Friday
The new semester starts tomorrow at the University of Houston. And there's going to be a new grad student on campus. So UH students, when you see Case Keenum on campus, welcome him aboard.

Keenum's not actually new to the Houston campus. However, the Cougar quarterback completed all of his undergrad classes last semester with the goal of graduating and continuing with a professional career. But he suffered a season-ending ACL injury on September 18 when playing against UCLA, so he petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. And against all odds, the NCAA granted the request.

But for Keenum to make use of this sixth year, he's got to be a student, taking classes. Hello grad school.

"I get to apply for grad school," Keenum said on Friday afternoon. I'm going to apply for grad school. I'm taking the GRE. We've got a lot of options here at the University of Houston. I haven't quite narrowed it down to exactly what I want to do, but I'll get started on that. That's just another perk of this, is getting going with that. It's something I didn't expect I would be getting when I got here, and now that I do, it's another -- it's a good thing."

Last week was a rather stressful one for Keenum and head coach Kevin Sumlin. The NCAA was supposed to have come down with a ruling last Tuesday. Then they pushed it to Thursday, then Friday. If Keenum was going to get that year from the NCAA, he would have to be enrolled in school and taking classes. If he wasn't going to get that eligibility, then Keenum needed to start focusing on setting up pro days and tryouts and trying to land a spot with a professional team somewhere.

Keenum said that he was taking the pessimistic view that the NCAA would turn down his appeal. But even taking that approach, it was difficult going forward because of the uncertainty.

"We had thought about it, and tried to form to some timeline to go out and be able to do a pro day...but we couldn't really do a lot of stuff because we weren't sure either way," Keenum said. "It's just me kind of thinking, and basing it all on my knee and how healthy I'd be at the time. But we don't have to do that. I think that's a good thing."

Keenum and Sumlin give the credit for Keenum's return to the UH Athletic Compliance Department. They were the ones who handled all aspects of the appeal. Who provided the paperwork to the NCAA, who made sure the forms were completed correctly, who made sure Keenum properly navigated the minefield that is the NCAA.

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John Royal
Keenum talks to the horde
"From the beginning, I know Case has said this before, but I know as a coach, you're a little bit on the periphery of what's going on," Sumlin said. "The Compliance Department was diligent in their work and their effort, and their communication with the NCAA. And our administration did a fantastic job of obviously organizing all of the information and giving the NCAA what they wanted. I think that says a lot about our administration, about our Compliance Department, and the willingness of them to work with the NCAA, and the willingness of the NCAA to work with us. My hat goes off to [Assistant Director of Athletic Compliance] Kevin Klotz and his staff."

So Keenum's getting ready for grad school, and he's out spreading the good news to his family and teammates. Now he just has to get back into football mode. He says his rehab is going according to schedule, and he hopes to return as a stronger quarterback. And despite all of his accomplishments at Houston, and despite all of the numbers and wins, Keenum sees himself as having to compete for the starting job with David Piland.

"I'm going to have to go earn my spot back," Keenum says. [Piland's] a heck of a football player, and I know he's going to be a great quarterback, and I look forward to competing and working with him."

But Kevin Sumlin, who was out on the recruiting trail, sees things a bit differently.

"Today, for us, for the University of Houston," Sumlin said, "we got the best recruit that we could get for the next year."

Keenum still has a lot of work ahead of him. He's still rehabbing, and then he's going to have to get into playing shape. But now he's got somewhere to focus. Now he knows his destination. Now his toughest decision is figuring out his newest line of study, though perhaps, as one of my colleagues recommended on Friday, perhaps he should avoid journalism school and focus on something with a future in case that whole football thing ends up not working out.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal