HOUSTON — Overlooked again, Case Keenum will start his NFL career close to where he proved his skeptics wrong in college.
The record-setting Houston quarterback said Monday that he will sign as an undrafted free agent with the Texans, the team he was hoping would give him his shot.
"It's really unbelievable," Keenum said Monday on the Houston campus. "I'm extremely excited for so many reasons."
Keenum was disappointed that he wasn't drafted. But when the Texans called on Saturday night, he immediately related it to his transition from high school to college.
Houston was the only school that offered him a scholarship after a stellar career at Wylie High School in Abilene. Keenum rewarded Houston's faith by becoming the Football Bowl Subdivision's career leader in yards passing (19,217) and touchdown passes (155), and he's the only FBS quarterback to throw for more than 5,000 yards in three different seasons.
"That's just kind of part of my identity," Keenum said. "Coming out of high school, I had one scholarship offer. I said that before the draft that all I need is one chance, and I got my one chance here, with a great organization and great coaches."
The Texans were down to third-string quarterback T.J. Yates by the end of last season. They still finished 10-6, won their division and earned their first playoff berth. Matt Leinart, last year's backup until he broke his collarbone, is expected to sign with Oakland.
Matt Schaub said recently that he's almost fully recovered from a broken right foot, and Yates will be the backup in 2012. Schaub called Keenum on Saturday night to welcome him into the mix.
Keenum also felt comfortable with coach Gary Kubiak and the staff after a recent 30-minute workout at Reliant Stadium.
"I clicked really well over there," Keenum said. "It just felt right. I'm really excited it's happening this way."
Keenum tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the third game of the 2010 season. Houston appealed for a medical redshirt and Keenum was granted one more season to take aim at the NCAA's career passing records.
He not only shattered the marks, he also guided Houston to unprecedented heights in 2011. The Cougars won their first 12 games and broke into the top 10 in the Bowl Championship Series standings. Houston was headed for its first BCS berth — and the first for Conference USA — until losing at home to Southern Miss in the league championship game on Dec. 3.
Donning a Texans T-shirt and matching baseball cap, Keenum says the last few days have been a whirlwind.
"It still hasn't hit," Keenum said. "I haven't even signed my contract yet. This is all brand new to me."
The hard part begins soon.
The 6-foot Keenum knows he has plenty of areas to improve, starting with his mechanics. He needs to learn how to "play taller," releasing the ball with more loft than he was required to do in college.
"There are so many little things, like patting the ball when I'm about to throw," Keenum said. "There are a lot of little things that you don't think about."
He's also starting from scratch with the Texans' complex offense, a different scheme than the pass-heavy offense the Cougars employed. Houston led the nation in passing offense (450 yards per game) and pass attempts (682). The Texans finished second in the league in rushing (153 yards per game) in 2011.
"I don't know much about their offense at all right now," he said. "Once I get into it, and figure that out, I'll probably have a better idea. I've got a lot to learn. I've got a long way to go."
And if he needs added incentive, Keenum only has to look across the locker room. Arian Foster went undrafted in 2009 and signed with Houston as a free agent. He's blossomed into one of the league's top running backs, making the last two Pro Bowls.
Foster has said that he's used the draft snub as motivation. Keenum, meanwhile, is just happy the Texans are taking a chance on him.
"I try not to dwell on that right now," Keenum said. "I'm not looking backward, I'm looking forward. I know that I'm going to be a part of a great organization and one that wanted me, and I wanted to go there. I'm not going to look at that right now."