HUNTINGTON, W.Va.—The 2014 campaign season has already begun and I’m not talking about the race between Shelly Moore Capito and Natalie Tennant or even Nick Rahall’s dubious political future.
The “Cato for Heisman” campaign officially launched this week via Athletics Director Mike Hamrick’s twitter account as Marshall tries to push its record setting quarterback into the national spotlight.
— Mike Hamrick (@TheHerdAD) June 12, 2014
While Herd fans have been spoiled by Cato’s outstanding performance the last three seasons, he only started to garner the attention of others around the country after he lead Marshall to a 31-20 win over Maryland in the Military Bowl. There’s no ignoring Cato’s stats. He completed 39 touchdown passes and threw for 3,916 yards in 2013, a year after he threw for 4,201 yards and 37 touchdowns. If Cato can duplicate those numbers this year he should at least be in the Heisman conversation.
But it takes more than just stats to be a factor in the race for the Heisman Trophy.
“There’s a reason why corporations and politicians spend millions of dollars on campaigns, because they work. No one wants to admit they are influenced because of a campaign but it is true,” insists Chris Huston of HeismanPundit.com.
Huston is now one of the most accurate Heisman forecasters in the country but got his start as an assistant sports information director at the University of Southern California where he conceived and directed successful Heisman campaigns for Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.
“You have a lot of different products in the market place. Imagine you’re going into the grocery store, and you have a lot of different newspapers that want you to buy them. How do you differentiate yourself? How do you do something different? That’s the challenge for sports information directors and media relations personnel in sports,” explains Huston during an appearance on The Stampede.
It takes more than just a savvy campaign to get a player invited to New York. Once the sports information or media relations department puts the player in front of the national media they player has to hold up his end of the bargain.
“It works bringing more attention to players and once players follow through with performance, that is something that works in tandem with the campaign,” says Huston.
Most expect Cato to hold up his end of the deal. That’s why pundits such as Phil Steele are predicting a Marshall to run the table this season and even be invited to the Chick-fil-A Bowl. It’s also why Cato is even in preseason Heisman discussion. He has been the key element in Marshall’s success over the last three years. If Cato is once again largely the reason for Marshall’s success as a team this year, he will be a legitimate Heisman candidate.
“If he has a huge year, everything falls into place and some of these guys don’t live up to the billing, then he’s got a chance to make a name for himself if he can do for Marshall what Jordan Lynch did for Northern Illinois,” believes Huston.
Lynch, the quarterback at Northern Illinois, was invited to New York last year but Cato has an edge that Lynch did not. Marshall has a history with the Heisman. Randy Moss was a Heisman Finalist in 1998. Chad Pennington was a finalist in 1999 and Byron Leftwich was in the Heisman conversation for much of his senior season.
“These are the giants’ shoulders that Rakeem will be standing on. When you’re at a school like Marshall, it helps to have guys to lay the ground work for you. He’ll be able to hearken back to those previous Thundering Herd connections,” pointed out Huston.
It will be tough for Cato but it is not impossible. He’ll need to be nearly flawless this season and so will Marshall for him to considered for national awards.
But like any long shot candidate, if he delivers on his promises and gets a little publicity along the way, he could find himself on the national stage.