PeÒa leaves Cougars for high school coaching job
The Houston football team’s hotly contested battle for the starting quarterback job became less crowded after senior Al PeÒa withdrew from the competition Wednesday.
PeÒa, a transfer from Oklahoma State, left the Cougars to take a high school football assistant coaching job with his father Jorge PeÒa, the head coach at Hidalgo High School in South Texas. His departure means that the starting job will go to either redshirt sophomore Blake Joseph or redshirt freshman Case Keenum, the two remaining contestants.
PeÒa, a Leander, Texas native, graduated from Oklahoma State last spring, but had one year of eligibility remaining. After gaining admittance to Houston’s graduate school, he applied for and was granted a transfer waiver from the NCAA that made him eligible to play this season.
The 6-4, 230-pound PeÒa, who could not be reached for comment, had a chance to replace former UH standout Kevin Kolb, but ultimately decided that the opportunity to coach with his father and start a new life with his wife Megan would be more beneficial.
PeÒa’s departure comes as a shock with the Cougars set to open their season in Oregon on Sept. 1, but the team doesn’t think less of him because of his decision.
"I appreciate Al taking the sacrifice of coming to the University of Houston and giving this deal a shot," Cougars head coach Art Briles said. "He’s nothing but a class individual, and he’ll do well coaching ball. I wish him the best."
PeÒa’s loss was felt by his teammates, including his former competitors.
"I really liked Al. He’s a good guy," Keenum said. "We got along pretty well together, (and) I wish him the best.
"I guess the situation just wasn’t working out for him here, but I know he’s going to go (to Hidalgo) and be successful and have a good job doing it. That’s what it’s about, loving what you do, (and) I know he will."
The quarterback competition will likely rage on until the start of the season. By some reports, Keenum has looked slightly better directing the offense in the scrimmages than Joseph.
Briles, however, refuses to indicate which quarterback has the edge.
"We’re really not up to that level yet," Briles said. "Right now, we’re just trying to get a feel for each (quarterback) and how they fit our offense and see how the interaction goes with the rest of our players.
"We have two guys that are very, very capable, so we’re not concerned with (the quarterback position)."
Briles also discussed the possibility of auditioning other quarterbacks on the roster to fill the role of "emergency" quarterback.
The top candidates for that position appear to be redshirt freshman L.J. Castile and freshman Justin Johnson. Castile and Johnson are listed at wide receiver and running back, respectively, but both played primarily quarterback for their high schools.
"We’ve gone through every season since I’ve been here with only two (quarterbacks), so what we’ll probably do is just stay with two and maybe get someone to be kind of the emergency QB, in case we got into a situation where we had to have someone," Briles said. "We’ll get somebody game-ready to be able to get us out of a game, but we won’t spend (all) our time in practice getting (them) ready."
Before the start of fall camp, Briles entertained the notion of rotating quarterbacks for the first few games until he settled on a definite starter, so there’s a possibility Joseph and Keenum could both see playing time against Oregon.
They should know the answer some time next week.
"That’s coach Briles’ decision, and I support whatever he does," Keenum said. "My main deal is (that) I want to win, no matter what.
"If it takes two quarterbacks, if it takes one quarterback (or) if I have to sit and watch, then that’s (how it’s) going to be. I’m going to do my part, and I want to help the Cougars beat Oregon and (repeat as) Conference USA champions."
Joseph said both he and his competitor are ready to handle the task.
"It’s down to me and Case, and we’re both great quarterbacks. We both know the system, and whoever is (starting) quarterback on Sept. 1 (against) Oregonis going to do a great job.
"It wouldn’t bother me any (if Briles decided to rotate quarterbacks) because Case and me have been working hard all spring and all summer," Joseph said. "As long as we win games, that’s the most important thing."