Aug. 27, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall has snapped the football on offense more than 3,000 times in the last three seasons, and Rakeem Cato has taken all but about 270 of those for Coach Doc Holliday’s team.
The senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate is hoping for one final season approaching 1,100 snaps, which is a number the prolific Herd attack almost reached both in 2012 and 2013.
How does that happen? The veteran QB said that starting with Saturday’s season opener at Miami (Ohio), it’s about doing the same basics in offensive coordinator Bill Legg’s game plans, but with much deeper knowledge.
“What’s different this year is I just think not only me, but the entire offense, we understand the offense, and most importantly, what we’re trying to do with it,” Cato said earlier this week. “It’s not about seven points (touchdowns). Any play is not about seven points. It’s about moving the system and taking what the defense gives us.
“I think everybody around me and (senior center) Chris Jasperse, they really understand that. Take what the defense gives us, finding the holes, finding the reads, identifying man coverage, identifying zone coverage.
“It’s the small things that the guys have had to adapt to throughout spring and throughout camp. So, I think the guys did a great job with that, really learning the offense and really learning what Coach Legg is trying to do with us.”
Cato said having a big back like 243-pound ex-tight end Devon Johnson blocking for him “is a great thing, but handing him the football on third down and having him run downhill through people is big, too. It’s big.”
The Herd quarterback listed other reasons he sees the Herd offense – which has averaged at least 504 yards per game in each of the last two seasons – taking another step forward. He liked the progress of his pass-catchers in August camp.
“Davonte Allen, I think he made a huge jump on the outside, over the spring and in camp,” Cato said. “The coaches challenged him mentally and physically to come out there and have a great day, 100 percent effort, locked in on the play and re-locked in as a receiver. So, I think he made a big jump.
“Craig Wilkins, staying healthy was big. Also there’s (Angelo) Jean-Louis. He came in and made a big impact early during camp, big strides willing to get better, coming out every day and willing to take coaching and get better.
“Also (Deandre) Reaves, adjusted, moving from the slot to the outside position. He did a great job with that, just using his speed, from not having to think too much inside to outside just making plays to the football. I think our whole receiver corps made huge jump not only in spring but also in camp.”
Jean-Louis, listed with the ones on the Herd season-opening depth chart, provides some things most freshman wideouts don’t or can’t, Cato said.
“It’s just aggressiveness, being aggressive to the ball,” the Herd QB said. “Whether it’s a jump ball, a perfect ball or an ugly ball, he’s so aggressive to the ball, you know you can keep throwing this guy the ball.
“His route-running is smooth, great hands. He brings a lot to the table. He also has great speed and great football IQ. He had a great jump over the spring, when he first came out there, to camp, too.”
Cato said he and the Herd outside receivers had one focus in August camp that he hopes will pay dividends in what is forecast to be a Conference USA title season – and perhaps a College Football Playoff access bowl bid – for the Herd.
It’s the jump ball.
“Right, right,” Cato said. “It was one of the things we wanted to work on in camp, When we get man coverage and our guy side-by-side, instead of letting the ball drop down, just go up and attack the ball. I think our receivers took that challenge and ran with it, especially Davonte and Angelo. Just by attacking the ball, high-pointing the ball, going up and attacking it. They did a great job of that this camp.”
Cato said he’s ready to get the season started amid all the prognostications and the six-page Sports Illustrated spread that chronicled his life and football career that has included 19,588 passing yards and 194 touchdowns in seven seasons of high school and college ball.
And yes, he a good grasp of the fervor within Herd fans for the rivalry with Miami (Ohio), a series fueled after then then-Redskins scored 211 points in the five games with Marshall right after the 1970 Herd team plane crash.
“Like I’ve told everyone as the quarterback of this team, and as a player on this team, whatever our fan base is doing, we’ll be right behind them,” Cato said. “If they don’t like a team, we don’t either. If they love a team, we love ‘em.”