May 6, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – If you happened past the Marshall Rec Field next to the Henderson Center on the occasional Tuesday or Thursday morning during this semester, your eyes weren’t deceiving you.
Yes, that might have been Thundering Herd star quarterback Rakeem Cato – as a soccer goalkeeper.
The accompanying Photoshopped No. 12 mock-up of Cato notwithstanding, the Herd’s Heisman Trophy candidate isn’t considering forsaking his final year of NCAA eligibility in 2014 with Coach Doc Holliday and football for Bob Gray and men’s soccer.
He was often in the net for class – PEL 147, Beginning Soccer, an elective for the business management major from Miami. And perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Cato just wasn’t trying to pass the class.
The 2013 Military Bowl MVP was a lot like he is on the football field – vocal, emotional, impassioned.
“Soccer class is good, really good,” Cato said just before the end classes this semester. “I’m the goalie for the most part. I scored once, but I’m terrible at the sport. I can’t get it down pat. I can’t play it like I’d like to.
“It’s not like running with the football. It’s hard, it’s hard, the ball keeps going, and going, and you keep chasing it. You can’t catch up. You’ve got to follow the ball. It’s a really hard sport.”
Cato said it was his first attempt at the sport much of the world calls “football,” but he played other sports growing up in Miami. The 6-foot, 188-pound Cato was a three-sport guy at Miami Central High.
“I played baseball and basketball besides football,” Cato said. “In baseball, it was shortstop and pitcher. Tommy (Shuler, the Herd’s star wideout) played, too. Then I got hit pitching – a line drive just below my belt area – and I said I’d never pitch again, and I didn’t.
“I played point guard in basketball, played basketball all my life, like football.”
Cato, who received the 2013 Hardman Award as the state’s top amateur athlete from the West Virginia Sports Writers Association on Sunday, heads into his senior season as the active career national leader in FBS total offense (10,533 yards), plays (1,600) and touchdown passes (91). With 10,176 passing yards, he’s second in that statistic to Sean Mannion (10,436) of Oregon State.
Those numbers were meaningless in PEL 147, where Cato’s instructor was Freya Holdaway, a graduate assistant in MU’s physical education Lifetime Activities Department. Holdaway, a native of Wales, was a four-year letter winner (2008-11) as a center back/defender in Marshall women’s soccer. In 2010, she was an All-Conference USA third team selection.
“We have a really good teacher,” Cato said. “I call her ‘Miss.’ She really knows the game and she’s a pretty good soccer player, and she plays every day in class.”
Holdaway said she didn’t know how many times she’s scored goals in class with Cato as keeper, but estimated the quarterback has stopped as many of her shots as he’s allowed into the net.
“You can definitely tell there’s a fight to him, and you can see he doesn’t like losing,” Holdaway said when asked if she thought Cato took the same attitude onto the soccer pitch he takes onto the football field. “One thing is, you can tell he’s a leader, and that fact goes back to playing quarterback.”
“He’s the kind of person who even in class wants to get the rest of his teammates to work hard. And that’s very refreshing about him, the fact that he gets after it.”
Cato brought a tuck-it-and-run element to his air game last season, gaining 495 yards (he lost 201 on 24 sacks), but carrying a football and chasing a soccer ball are worlds apart, as he explained earlier.
“He struggled some to put his feet where he needed to kick the ball,” Holdaway said. “That part was challenging for him, but as you would expect with a person with his kind of drive, the more the weeks we went through, the better he became at it.”
Cato, 22, was in Beginning Soccer with three football teammates linebacker Evan McKelvey, wide receiver Davonte Allen and offensive tackle AJ Addison. Football signee Malik Thompson – projected as a defensive lineman -- also is in PEL 147 in his first semester on campus. Suffice it to say if they weren’t Cato’s soccer teammates that day, well … just think about how he verbally bombs the Herd defense consistently during practices.
“I’ve got to go hard in that class,” Cato said. “McKelvey’s in that class, and Davonte Allen, and normally we’re on opposite teams, and it can get so competitive out there. And we’ve got these other people in the class who want to score on me because I’m a football player, so they’re doing the talking and I’m ready … ready for the challenge. They were always talking smack to me inside the class.”
As a keeper, Cato said he really wasn’t a keeper.
“A lot of people scored on me,” he said. “McKelvey scored on me, and I didn’t like that from a defensive guy. One girl scored on me. I get scored on pretty often, but you know what, we always find a way to win. That’s what’s important. Getting a win … just like on the football field.”
Cato, who takes a nation’s best 32 consecutive games with a scoring pass into the 2014 season, left the Herd’s Thursday spring practices early to make it to his International Management classes in April. Beginning soccer was his third PE class at MU. He said he also took classes in basketball and yoga.
“Both were pretty much fun,” Cato said. “I never had done yoga before and it helped me. It helped a lot with stretching for football, getting a good stretch and locking in on it, and then carrying it over to the weight room. (Strength and conditioning) Coach (Scott) Sinclair, we did a lot of flex things, and so the yoga was a plus for me, teaching me to be more flexible.”
Holdaway said the PEL 147 grades won’t be finalized until later this week. Asked what grade the Herd’s star quarterback could receive for his goalkeeping effort and more, she said, “Definitely at least a B, maybe an A.”
Yes, and as Cato would be the first to tell you … there’s a difference between football and futbol.
A look at Marshall’s winners of the Hardman Award, presented to the state amateur athlete of the year as voted by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association:
2013 -- Rakeem Cato, football
2002 -- Byron Leftwich, football
2001 -- Byron Leftwich, football
2000 -- Pat Carter, golf (MU alumnus)
1999 -- Chad Pennington, football
1995 -- Chris Parker, football
1992 -- Michael Payton football
1991 -- Michael Payton, football
1990 -- John Taft, basketball
1987 -- Tony Petersen, football
1985 -- Carl Fodor, football
1976 -- John “Fuzzy’ Filliez, football
1972 -- Russell Lee, basketball