Work

by Tom Swift

Flash forward to 2011, and I’m at the College Football Awards. I had just wrapped up my playing career at the University of Houston — and now I’m one of three finalists for the Davey O’Brien Trophy (which is a fancy way of calling you the nation’s best quarterback).

So I’m at this ceremony, and I’m sitting down for an interview with a journalist. I won’t name him. But the guy says to me, he goes, “Case, hi. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to tell you this … but I just wanted you to know: I have a Davey O’Brien vote — and I voted you third!”

And he’s looking at me like he’s waiting for me to say thank you.

Like he’d done this gigantic favor for me, just by having me third on his ballot. Like — in his mind, that’s how little most people felt I deserved to be there.

So anyway, he says that … and I’m just kind of sitting there, looking at him. And I’m like, “You know I’m one of the … three finalists, right?”

And I think for a second he thought I was ticked. Like he’d offended me or something. But then I think he saw the smile creeping in on my face — and I could see him realizing that I was much less ticked than I was just … amused. I could see him realizing what a lot of people eventually realize about me: that being underestimated? It hasn’t ever really been anything I’ve taken much to heart.

I was a two-star recruit, man. I quarterbacked a team to a state title in Texas — in Texas — and I only got one scholarship offer. I had to compete for the QB job in college twice: Had to win it, and then we changed coaches and I had to win it again. I’ve been getting, “If you were only a few inches taller” … or, “If you were just a few ticks faster” … or, “If that arm was maybe a few yards stronger, son” — basically my whole life.

Heck, the only time in my life I think I’ve ever been overestimated was at the NFL draft. The experts said I’d be a late-round pick.

I went undrafted.

So when people ask me about having to adjust to being a “journeyman QB” … or about having to adapt to life on the fringes of my profession for so long … you know, I guess I just have to kind of laugh. Adjusting and adapting — those words would imply that this is a new situation for me. They’d imply that anything in football has ever come to me easy.

I guess you could even argue, in an ironic way … that I almost came to the NFL more prepared than anyone.

Because they say this is a “prove it” league.

And proving it — over, and over, and over again — is all I’ve ever known.

When you’re on the fringes, man — you’re almost lucky in a way. Sure, there’s less job security. And sure, the paycheck is smaller. And sure, you could be packing your bags at a moment’s notice. O.K., on second thought … maybe “lucky” is the wrong word. But still, I’m telling you — there’s something about that life.

You learn things on the fringes.

You learn how to put your head down and go to work. You learn that progress can be slow as all heck — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. You learn that your margin for error … it’s always smaller than you think. You learn the value of having people who believe in you — and the value of proving them right. You learn how to block out the noise. You learn how to really call plays. And you learn how to cherish every opportunity, right down to the last one … because you never know how many you’re gonna get.

-Case Keenum, “Right Team, Right Time,” The Players Tribune, 1-11-2018