If you’re a Marshall football fan, there’s a lot to be excited about.
The Thundering Herd went 10-4 last year – including 7-1 in Conference USA – and won six of their last seven games, including a 31-20 victory over Maryland in the Military Bowl. Heck, Marshall was even good in its losses. Three of the four setbacks were by a combined seven points – and one came in triple overtime at Virginia Tech.
In short, the program is as good as it’s been in a long, long time. And this year could be even better.
That’s because Marshall boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. No, not Jameis Winston, and no, not Braxton Miller. It’s Rakeem Cato, who is on the Maxwell and Walter Camp preseason watch lists.
How is Cato handling all of the national attention?
“He’s handled it extremely well,” Marshall head football coach Doc Holliday said on The Damon Amendolara Show. “He’s a great kid. He’s probably – he’s not probably; he is the most competitive kid I’ve ever coached. I’ve been around some good players, and he just loves to play the game.”
Cato spearheaded an offense that averaged 42.1 points per game last season – eighth-best in the country. He completed 59.7 percent of his passes for 3,916 yards, 39 touchdowns and just nine interceptions. He also rushed for 294 yards and six touchdowns, leading Marshall to its most wins since 2002.
For his career, Cato, a three-year starter, has thrown for an astounding 10,176 yards, 91 touchdowns and just 31 interceptions. He has played with the heart and determination one might expect from a player with his background.
“He grew up in a tough situation,” Holliday said of the Miami native. “He grew up tough. Adversity doesn’t affect him at all. He understands that the expectations for him are extremely high, but he also understands that along with those expectation come responsibility. He’s embraced that responsibility, and I’m proud of the way he’s handled himself.”
Holliday said Cato plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, which is fine.
“I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” Holliday said. “He knows that football was his way out. He’s embraced that. When he came out of there, he was never told when to go to bed, when to get up, when to go to school – anything.”
Cato enrolled at Marshall four years ago as a skinny freshman without a whole lot of discipline. Over time, however, he’s grown into an exemplary young man and leader.
“He embraced that discipline part of it,” Holliday said. “We had some challenges. I mean, anytime you play a true freshman – which, he had to play for us as a true freshman – you go through some growing pains. We did that with him, but like I say, I’m proud of the way he’s handled himself. I’m proud of the way he’s developed the intangibles that it takes to be a great quarterback. He’s done a tremendous job for us.”
Notable games include the season-opener at Miami of Ohio (Aug. 30), a Week 3 matchup against Ohio (Sept. 13) and a late-season showdown against Rice (Nov. 15).
If all goes according to plan, who knows? In just four short months, Cato might call himself something that four years ago would have seemed like a pipe dream:
A Heisman Trophy finalist.