Aug 30, 2013
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON – He led the nation in passing yards and completions per game last season. He was the Conference USA MVP as a sophomore. With his name on four watch lists, he’s gotten more preseason attention from national awards than any other player in Marshall Football history.
To Rakeem Cato, what matters starts Saturday night, the 115th Thundering Herd season. The two MU teams he has quarterbacked have finished 7-6 and 5-7. That’s nowhere near where the junior from Miami wants to go.
So, how is it going to be different for Coach Doc Holliday’s fourth MU team, with its much-improved depth and lofty prognostications?
“Just by going hard, play by play, going out there making plays, having fun, trying to turn everything up a notch,” Cato said earlier this week. “It’s all the same expectation (for the Herd players). Everybody wants to win.
“I can’t wait. I’m so excited for all of us to get together on one sideline, the green on, the same helmets on, just going out there and performing and look at everybody having fun. I’m just ready.”
The Herd opens against its former Mid-American Conference rival Miami (Ohio), and it’s Holliday’s first season opener at home and the first season opener at home against an FBS program since 2004 (Troy).
Cato understands that a good start – the Herd has FCS member Gardner-Webb at Edwards Stadium for Game 2 – is huge.
“It’s really big,” Cato said. “We need to try to get everybody out we can, help our team win, make the Marshall name come back alive, do everything our power that we’re allowed to do to come back, so everybody understands.
“The losing we’ve gone through, everybody realizes we can’t keep being that way, so we’ve been going hard every day like a game situation.”
Cato said the spiked August camp competition has helped drive the Herd as much as the remembrances of last season’s struggles and the disappointment of a last-game overtime loss at East Carolina, one where a reversal of fortunes would have brought a Military Bowl bid.
“It’s the biggest thing, knowing you’ve got a lot of great guys on one team, all playing for one position and it kind of made the job tougher for the coaches, but that’s … They call ‘em coaches and they have to make the right decision to put the best 11 on the field at the same time.
“I mean it was a great, competitive camp and everybody had fun doing it.”
The junior quarterback also said Holliday’s decision to name weekly game captains rather than pick four or five season captains will yield a positive push, too.
“That was a great job (by Holliday), knowing that it’s a competition now, so you’ve got to do great every day in practice to be a leader,” Cato said. “In my mind, that’s a good thing, that we’re going to have different leaders, from a freshman, from a sophomore, from a junior, from a senior.
“So you have the attitude like that … everybody wants to be a leader out there, everybody wants to be a part of that, those four guys walking on the field (for the pregame coin toss).”
He used redshirt senior running back Essray Taliaferro – a presumed No. 4 back prior to camp – as a model of what camp and captaincy could do.
“He’s the perfect example,” Cato said. “He was just working hard, day-by-day in camp. I saw it, the coaches saw it. Everything he did -- he deserves it, just a great guy … He took it up another notch, really, running, blocking.
“I say all the time a guy can look in that running back room … we have four running backs that can play (Division I) football anywhere, they can really play.”
Marshall’s veteran offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Bill Legg, said Cato has continued to camp to add on to the quarterback’s progression in the spring at the position.
“In spring, there was a better understanding of where the ball was going to go before the ball is even snapped,” Legg said. “That’s a constant with quarterbacks. The longer you’re in a system and the more snaps you get, the better understanding of what the defense’s intentions are, where when you’re a young guy and everything is reactionary, the defense moves and you react to it.
“As you get older, you begin to have a better understanding about what your own assignments and techniques are, but also what’s going on around you. How is the defense trying to attack you? What are the cues, the tips that tell you what they’re going to do before they do it? And then, now having a better sense of knowing where to go with the ball, should I hand it off, should I throw it, who should I throw it to, do I need to adjust protection, whatever the case may be.
“And I felt like during course of spring, that showed up. Rakeem had a better understanding of what the defense’s intentions were prior to the snap of the football. Then that helps with decision-making. The better understanding you have of the defense’s intentions, the easier it becomes to make a decision, the right one, and the ball gets where it needs to go.
“So, when you ultimately make the right decision, it also makes everybody else around you better.”
Cato said he tried to use his legs and his head more in three weeks of camp – and expects to do the same starting Saturday at Edwards Stadium.
Asked what where he tried to progress most in camp, Cato said, “just my decision-making … going out there and not being complacent, just having fun. And whatever Coach Legg calls, doing it to my best, and being smart in what I do.”
Cato says August camp is Herd history, just like his nation-leading season through the air, his MVP honor and even those watch list mentions. He’s ready for some football.
“For me, I don’t look at all that,” Cato said of the buzz around the Herd. “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, 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.”