- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 31, 2011

HOUSTON (AP) - Case Keenum leaned on his crutches and pondered his future as he watched the final minutes of Houston’s loss to UCLA in the Rose Bowl last Sept. 18.

Houston’s star senior quarterback was approaching several NCAA records when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against the Bruins and was lost for the 2010 season.

Before Keenum could sink too far into depression and self-pity about his lost opportunity _ before he even left the stadium, in fact _ his mother came down from the stands and put everything in perspective.

“She said, `This is peanuts,’” Keenum remembers with a smile. “She said, `There are people out there right now protecting our country, giving up their lives, so that we can do the things we do. What’s a knee injury in the grand scheme of things?’

“She was right,” he said. “And looking back, a lot of good things have come out of it.”

The best things may be coming this season.

The knee is healed now, and the rejuvenated Keenum is back for one more season with the Cougars after the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility. And he will start his final year in Houston against none other than UCLA in Saturday’s season opener at Robertson Stadium.

“I’ve thought about this for a long time, and I’ve lost a lot of sleep over it,” Keenum said. “It’s been one thought that has probably consumed my mind for the last year now, so it’s going to mean a lot to me and I’m really excited to get back out there.”

Doctors bluntly told him in the training room under the Rose Bowl that his knee was mangled and his season was over, and he sobbed in the arms of his father, Steve. In the early weeks after surgery, Keenum could hardly get out of bed and the pain-killing medications made him ill.

“It was everything. I went through the whole process. Denial, anger, all that stuff,” he said. “It wasn’t fun. It’s not something I would wish for anybody to go through.”

A devout Christian, Keenum fell back on his faith to help him through the ordeal. Keenum is active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and his father directs the FCA chapter in Abilene, where Case led Wylie High School to a state championship in 2004.

“I told him that when you look back in the Bible, any time God got ready to do something with somebody, He’d always send them to the hard place, the desert, for trials,” Steve Keenum said. “They help you grow, not just emotionally, but physically and spiritually.

“He’s been there. He’s been in the desert,” he added. “This wasn’t easy. But I think now he’s a better person, he’s a better man. It’s all made him stronger.”

When the worst was over, Case Keenum started mulling his options with his father, a former coach. The school petitioned the NCAA for one more year, and all they could do then was wait.

Keenum took his mind off the uncertainty by returning to the practice field, helping coaches with game plans. He counseled freshman quarterback David Piland, who was thrust into a starting role after the injuries to Keenum and backup Cotton Turner, also hurt in the UCLA game.

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