Tania Ganguli | ESPN.com
HOUSTON — Looking for a spark, the Houston Texans have turned to a hometown hero.
Coach Gary Kubiak announced his decision after ruling out Matt Schaub, who is recovering from an ankle and foot injury.
“We’re struggling, and we’re looking for a spark,” Kubiak said. “I think he deserves an opportunity to go out there. It’s a tough place to play. It’s a tough place to get your first start and all that good stuff. But I’m not sending him out there by himself. I’m sending him out there with his football team, and the guys understand that.”
Keenum began the season as the Texans’ third-string quarterback. He has been inactive for the first six games of the season, and backup T.J. Yates went into the Week 6 game against the St. Louis Rams in the third quarter after Schaub was injured.
“It is real,” Keenum said. “I have to pinch myself every now and then. It’s exciting. It’s what I want. It’s what I’ve wanted for a long time.”
Keenum spent six seasons at the University of Houston. He had one redshirt year to start then tore his ACL early in his senior year and took a medical redshirt. He returned the following year and led the Cougars to an undefeated regular season, which earned the team a top-10 ranking. Houston lost in the Conference USA championship game to Southern Miss.
“It was tough for a long time there,” Keenum said. “My rehab process was pretty tough. It makes it all worth it. … You don’t know where you’re going to be. You kind of have to work with the faith of knowing where you’re going to be. It does make it that much more sweet. …
“I try to play to prove everybody right that’s believed in me, more so than play to prove everybody wrong.”
Yates, who is in his third year with the Texans, threw two interceptions against the Rams, and one was returned 98 yards for a touchdown. It was the Texans’ fifth consecutive game with a pick-six. Schaub had thrown one in each of the previous four games.
Kubiak made the decision Wednesday night. He told Keenum and Yates of his decision Thursday morning then announced the change to the team before practice. Yates said the decision surprised him a little bit.
“His eyes got kind of big, but he’s excited,” Kubiak said of Keenum. “He’s a competitor, and he’s a very confident young man. We went out there today, and I thought he practiced really well.
“He’s been in big games, a lot on his shoulders, big stage, played in a lot of football games. I know it’s a tremendous opportunity. It’s what you work for as a kid. You get into this league and you look for an opportunity, and all of a sudden, here’s an opportunity for him very early in his career. We’re excited for him as a football team.”
Keenum went undrafted in 2012 and spent last season on the Texans’ practice squad after a record-setting career at Houston. Keenum holds NCAA records for career passing yards (19,217) and touchdown passes (155), and he is one of only two quarterbacks to have multiple 5,000-yard seasons.
“It reminds me a little bit of Tony Romo‘s story. Hopefully it ends out that way,” Texans defensive coordinator and former Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips said. “He’s got some moxie. That’s what Romo has.”
Keenum’s coach at Houston, Kevin Sumlin, offered his support of the decision in a statement released Thursday.
“Case is a great player and an even better person, and I am very excited for his opportunity to start with the Houston Texans,” said Sumlin, now at Texas A&M. “I know he will be extremely prepared, and I expect him to play well. I wish both he and the Texans nothing but the best.”
- Previously covered Texans for Houston Chronicle and Jaguars for Florida Times-Union
- Northwestern University graduate