- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2019

ASHBURN — Case Keenum says he doesn’t wish he was born a few years later — but who would blame him if he did? Eleven years ago at the University of Houston, the quarterback started to post record-setting numbers in box scores, displayed a firm command of the spread system and even worked closely with offensive guru Kliff Kingsbury.

That’s a sexy resume in today’s NFL.

Back then, though, the Baker Mayfields and Kyler Murrays of college football weren’t seen as naturals for the NFL, and Keenum’s video-game numbers didn’t compute. He was a 6-foot-1 passer — if that — with critics who dismissed him as a product of the system. He went undrafted.

“We fought that (label) forever,” said Houston coach Dana Holgorsen, who was Keenum’s offensive coordinator in 2008 and 2009. “That was frustrating to us for a long time.”

Keenum, though, defied the skeptics. It wouldn’t be the last time he was doubted — or counted out.

When the 31-year-old takes the field Sunday in Philadelphia to face the Eagles as the Redskins’ starting quarterback, Keenum will get another chance to surpass expectations. Keenum was shipped off to the Redskins this past spring after just one season with the Denver Broncos. He hadn’t expected to be traded — another dip in a career that has featured highs and lows.

Through it all, those who know the quarterback say they’ve rarely seen him rattled. Not when he received just one college scholarship offer. Not when he went undrafted. Not when he bounced around the NFL, including when the Minnesota Vikings opted to pursue Kirk Cousins in free agency months after Keenum helped lead the team to the NFC Championship game.

After finishing a post-practice lifting session, Keenum admitted it hasn’t always been easy. Learning to not be bothered by people’s opinions, he said, is a continuous process.

“Everyday, man,” Keenum told The Washington Times. “That’s every day of my career. Some days more than others.”

In 2018, Keenum seemed to have finally broken through. Coming off a season which included the “Minneapolis Miracle” — a last-ditch, game-winning throw to advance in the playoffs — Keenum signed a two-year, $36 million deal with the Denver Broncos.

If Minnesota wasn’t going to re-sign him, Keenum loved the idea of playing for John Elway, his childhood idol and Denver’s general manager. He even purchased a house, trying to plant roots with wife Kimberly.

But after a 6-10 season, Denver decided to move on — trading for Joe Flacco and then dealing Keenum to the Redskins. The Broncos were even willing to pay half of Keenum’s $7 million salary.

“I would say I was surprised,” Keenum said, “but nothing’s really surprising to me in this league anymore. You roll with the punches and take it in stride.”

These days, Keenum is facing a situation similar to earlier in his career. If Keenum struggles, there will be calls for the Redskins’ coaching staff to replace him with first-rounder Dwayne Haskins. Keenum understands, having been benched after nine games when the Los Angeles Rams turned to No.1 pick Jared Goff in 2016. The Rams were 4-5 at the time of the switch.

Former Redskins receiver Brian Quick, who was cut last weekend and was Keenum’s teammate on the Rams, said Keenum handled the demotion well. The Rams announced the decision in a meeting in front of the team.

“It just helped build him into who he is right now,” Quick said. “Going through adversity and showing what you have to fight through anything, that shows a lot of character … and not worry about certain things they can’t control.”

Keenum didn’t always have that equilibrium. Growing up in Texas, Keenum could be stubborn as a child.

“He wanted to play games he could control,” said Steve Keenum, Case’s father. “His sister wanted to play Candyland and she sure loved it, and he didn’t like that at all.”

Gradually, Keenum learned.

In high school, Keenum did everything he could to earn multiple scholarship offers. He attended football camps around Texas, hoping he would stand out. Houston, however, was the only school to offer.

Initially, the Cougars recruited Keenum with the intention of him playing quarterback. But if that didn’t work out, they were prepared to move him to wide receiver, said former Houston coordinator Jason Phillips. Once Keenum arrived, the school never looked back.

While at Houston, Keenum became the NCAA’s all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns and completions. By those who were on that Houston coaching staff, Keenum has never been overlooked. Holgorsen hopes an NFL team can come to the same realization.

“I understand why teams take him because they’re thinking this guy is nonetheless going to be a backup for (years), but then he gets into the different systems and he ends up winning the job every single year,” Holgorsen said. “I don’t know why teams keep trying to replace him because they can’t.”

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