HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The last time Southern Miss came to Joan C. Edwards Stadium, the roles were reversed. The Golden Eagles were the heavy favorite, expected to contend for the C-USA title, taking on a young Marshall team with a scrawny true freshman quarterback making his home debut.
A week earlier, Rakeem Cato had made his first start as a college quarterback at Milan Puskar Stadium, where he completed 15-of-21 for 115 yards in a 34-13 loss to 24th-ranked West Virginia. All preseason, hype had surrounded the Miami native as he walked on to campus and won the starting job. Everyone was waiting to find out if the young player was for real. In his second start he proved to Marshall fans he was.
Cato threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns, connecting Aaron Dobson for a pair of scores as The Herd came from behind to beat Southern Miss.
“I have great memories. My first touchdown pass was against them, my first win,” Cato said. “They’re great memories.”
While the athletic ability has always been there, Cato had a lot of growing to do. Despite the outstanding performance against the Golden Eagles, Cato was benched later in the year and had to re-earn his starting role. He has come a long way since then.
“Leadership, understanding what I’m doing, recognizing the defense and getting the offense in better plays,” Cato said about his maturity process.
Lineman Garrett Scott has watched Cato develop into what he says is one of the top quarterbacks in the country.
“He matured a lot. You can see the leadership in him. I’m proud of him the way he’s grown up,” Scott said.
Every now and then offensive coordinator Bill Legg will pop in game film from Cato’s freshman year and the quarterback can’t believe he’s the same guy.
“Every time Coach Legg pulls up film from my freshman year I just drop my head,” Cato said. “Just coming in as a true freshman you don’t understand Cover 1 or Cover 3. I think I did a pretty good job from my freshman year till now.”
Winning the Conference USA MVP last year and writing his name in the record books alongside Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich represents a pretty good job. Although Pennington and Leftwich still have something Cato doesn’t at this point, a championship.
That’s something Cato hopes to fix this season.