UCF Game Was A Turning Point For Cato

From the minute Rakeem Cato stepped on to Marshall’s campus he captured the imagination of the Thundering Herd faithful. The skinny kid from Miami, FL strolled into Joan C. Edwards Stadium in August 2011 and outplayed a pair of quarterbacks that had been in the program for two years and won the starting job despite being with the team for less than a month.
The infatuation with Cato grew in week 2 when the true freshman threw for three touchdowns and 275 yards against C-USA favorite Southern Miss. Cato and The Herd went on the road to Louisville and Cato threw the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter that gave Marshall the upset win. It seemed the young man could do no wrong.

Then came a disastrous trip to Orlando, Fl. It was supposed to be a homecoming for Cato who was playing against many his former high school foes and teammates. In fact, Cato is still friends and has personal relationships with several players on the Knights’ roster. It was supposed to be a chance for Cato to show off his talents in his old backyard.

It turned into the low point in Cato’s short career at Marshall. Cato completed just 11 passes for 87 yards in a torrential downpour. Then the frustration overwhelmed him and an outburst on the sidelines cost him his starting job.

“We have certain standards and expectations that we expect every player to live up to. If they don’t, they sit and watch with me and the other guy plays,“ Doc Holliday said in his news conference the following week, prior to the Rice game.

“That game kind of made me change everything around and focus on college football and life knowing that anything can be taken away from you and maturing after that game,” Cato recalled this week. “That was a turning point.”

Graham would go down with a season ending injury against Tulsa and Cato was given a second chance and the rest was history. Cato and The Herd found ways to win six games and finish the year with a bowl victory. This season, Marshall’s offense has experienced an offensive explosion not seen since the days when Byron Leftwich was running the offense and it’s mostly been due to the right arm of Rakeem Cato.

“He’s grown from that game (last year’s UCF game) and is so much more secure and confident,” explained Holliday. “That game last year was a part of the growing process.”

Now, Cato leads the nation with 378 yards passing per game, total passing yards and completions. The Rakeem Cato that has developed into a confident passer and true leader on offense barely resembles the lanky 18-year-old who was benched after the UCF game a year ago.

“That game seems like light-years ago, thank goodness. He’s (Cato) matured as a quarterback and he’ll tell you that. He learned from that game a year ago and he’s so much further along as a quarterback and we’re so much further as an offense then we were this time last year,” said Holliday.

Undoubtedly Cato has made major strides in his development as a college quarterback from his freshman to sophomore seasons. What has captured the imagination of Herd fans is that Cato is still just a sophomore. If he continues to improve and mature the sky is the limit for a guy that was benched a year ago.

Follow Dave on Twitter @wvmetro_dwilson. E-mail comments to dwilson@wvradio.com

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