July 20, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – Davey O’Brien … Walter Camp … Maxwell?
Those are established national college football player awards, but the last of the three -- as far as Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato is concerned -- might as well be a cup of coffee.
Cato, the Thundering Herd junior and the returning Conference USA Player of the Year, is on the preseason watch lists for national player of the year (Maxwell, Camp) and top quarterback (Davey O’Brien).
He also figures to be among the Manning Award preseason QB names when that list appears in the new few weeks, and is considered by the Touchdown Club of Columbus (Ohio) as a candidate for the Sammy Baugh Award, won by Marshall’s Chad Pennington in 1999. The Baugh Award doesn’t pick a watch list.
Cato can’t win another quarterback honor, the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. Only seniors are eligible for that one.
Anyway, Cato is definitely known now for more than the beard – which he still sports – that drew on-campus attention in his rookie 2011 season.
And while the Herd signal caller appreciates the above national mentions and in no way dismisses them, the Miami native who led the nation in average passing yards (350.1) in 2012 also in no way dwells on them.
Marshall now has names on the Maxwell, Camp, O’Brien, Biletnikoff, John Mackey and Ray Guy lists – all prominent major national college football awards. That’s impressive.
But Cato is more concerned about how he works with Tommy Shuler and Gator Hoskins – fellow watch-listed teammates and two among his plethora of receivers on Coach Doc Holliday’s fourth Herd club – than he is a Davey O’Brien or Walter Camp.
“To be honest, all that concerns me as a player is quarterbacking Marshall,” Cato said a couple of days ago after sweating his way through another two-hour weight room conditioning session. “Getting us to be a winning team, a winning program is what it’s about.
“The only thing I can try to control is me and everybody around me doing everything well, everything positive in the direction we want to go.”
Cato, one of 50 players named to the Camp Award list on Friday, said the sting of last season’s 5-7 Herd finish lasted long into the winter. The 14 coaches in reconstituted Conference USA earlier this week named him the 2013 preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
He’s earned such accolades and attention, but maybe his major at MU – business management – explains a lot.
The guy just wants to go about his business, so he doesn’t get caught up in what he calls the “distraction” of a Phil Steele prediction of a C-USA title and Liberty Bowl bid.
“For me, I don’t look at all that,” said Cato, who came to Marshall as a 157-pounder and now tips the scales at 190. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to go out there and play. It’s not about what other people say, it’s about us having the pride to go out there and do it.
“You have to figure out how to do it yourself, because the coaches can only take you there, can only do so much. It’s up to us to get it done, and get it done now. We’ve got to make it happen. The publicity, you can listen to it, but it only goes so far. We’ve got to go out there and play.”
Bill Legg, the veteran Herd offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said he appreciates the growth in Cato from a true freshman thrown into the fire – and one who had some struggles before leading the Herd to a bowl win – to last season’s success story and 4,201-yard passer who completed nearly 70 percent of his throws.
What Legg doesn’t see is any change in Cato’s vision of what the QB feels is important.
“I hope not; I don’t see that,” Legg said when asked if he detected any change in Cato’s focus over the last two weeks of award list announcements. “The bottom line is he is on a mission to help this football team be as good as it can possibly be, play in the postseason and find a way to win every single game.
“That is what he wants to do. If he has to throw for 4,500 yards to do that, then great, but if he only needs to throw for 2,500 yards, he’s OK with that. That’s what I’ve seen; that’s the positive thing. Now, that can change, but he’s been able to handle these things with increasing maturity.
“Each year, each season, each semester, each spring ball, I’ve seen him slowly transitioning into being able to fine-tune his focus and yeah, let out some joy or some anger between plays, but then reload and be ready to go for the next play and be able to perform. Rakeem’s focus of ‘What is my job?’ has to continue, and ‘What do I do to get better?’ has to continue. Knock on wood, he knows that, and I don’t see him being any different in that way.”
Cato’s spring practice work was limited to an extent by Legg, who wanted to get more work for Cato’s backups, but also wanted to take no chances on getting the quarterback hurt – red jersey or no.
Cato said he was admittedly frustrated by his diminished time, but he and Legg agreed the quarterback prospered because of his attitude and the fact he was working against new defensive coordinator Chuck Heater’s more aggressive schemes.
“I felt like I had a good spring, with the time I had,” Cato said, smiling when asked about having his reps curbed by Legg. “I learned some new things, some good things.
“I had fun, and I learned more from our defense because they played a lot of good man coverage. It made my throws, completing them, a lot harder and I had to throw into a lot tighter (coverage windows).”
Legg said before the spring that he wanted to see improvement in the whole offense via what he calls “tweaks,” and that Cato was part of that.
“I believe Rakeem became a better football player during course of spring, and I think that was the case even though he didn’t take as many reps as he would have liked,” Legg said with a grin. “I know he didn’t take as many reps as he would have liked, and one of the things that endears him to us is that he’s so competitive.
“I felt like he improved some fundamental things, some things that will help him increase accuracy. I also felt like while we’re possibly tweaking things – you can’t ever stand still, but there’s a difference between tweaking and changing. Every offseason we tear everything apart, rebuild it with some stuff. If things are going well, it’s minor, but we added some stuff to the mix, and I felt like Rakeem picked up well on those things.”
Ask Legg how focused and committed Cato is, and the coordinator says, “This morning he came in and asked me if I could get him the Miami of Ohio (defensive) stuff to watch,” Legg said. “It’s mid-July. Does that answer you?”
After a school-record 406 completions in a single-season and 37 scoring passes – topped only by Pennington (39 in 1997) and Byron Leftwich (38 in 2001), Cato isn’t so tuned into those numbers, but he knows those two previous Herd QBs went to and won bowl games.
“Goals … I have no percentages, yards,’ he said. “The only thing I’m focused on is having an undefeated season, going to a bowl, winning. We want to win. We need to win here, now. We do that, everything else will take care of itself.”
Yeah, maybe even one of those Maxwells, O’Briens, Camps or Baughs.