The underdog role is a familiar one for Case Keenum.
The University of Houston star quarterback won the 2004 Texas Class 3A Division I state championship, but only received barely-audible buzz from recruiters. Then, when he arrived at UH in 2006, he was buried deep on the depth chart behind a future NFL starting QB.
Now, as chronicled in this week's cover story, the former Heisman Trophy candidate is trying to recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament, an injury that sports medicine experts say takes countless hours of pain-in-the-rear rehabilitation to recover.
It's too soon to tell if Keenum, who was expected to become one of the best quarterbacks in collegiate history, can return to his record-breaking form in the fall. He's just lucky to have the chance.
In January, the NCAA, after an agonizing wait for Keenum, approved a sixth-year eligibility appeal. He's slated to return to the Cougars' lineup at Houston's Robertson Stadium against UCLA on September 3. In the meantime, the deeply religious Keenum is entrenched in rehab, emotional repatterning and wedding planning with his fiancée.
Unlike 2010, it's doubtful that this season's Houston Cougars will be mentioned with other Bowl Championship Series busters like Boise State and Texas Christian University. Because the All-American has been off the radar for so long, a shot at the Heisman is next to impossible.
All in all, a lot of pressure weighs on the 23-year-old that's hoping for an NFL future. The university is looking for the other half of the $80 million needed to break ground on a new football complex, and another Keenum-led breakout season would do wonders for the school that's trying to accomplish tier-one recognition from multiple institutions.