By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Marshall’s series with Central Florida has not gone well, especially games in Orlando. Last year’s visit just might have been rock bottom.
The Thundering Herd lost 16-6 in a torrential downpour. The offense was held to just 130 yards and allowed a safety in the second quarter.
But it wasn’t just the team loss that will be remembered. It was a day that Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato would love to have back.
It certainly wasn’t Cato’s finest moment in green and white, and it has nothing to do with his 11-of-29 passing for 87 yards.
A true freshman at the time, Cato was caught on television in a heated sideline phone exchange with quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen. He also made an obscene gesture to fans.
It wound up costing Cato the starting job, a position he would regain three weeks later.
A year later, Cato seems to have grown a lot.
“That game seems like light years ago, thank goodness,” said Marshall coach Doc Holliday, whose team will host the Knights at 8 p.m. Saturday. “He's matured as a quarterback, and he'll tell you that. He learned from that game a year ago, and he's so much further along as a quarterback and we're so much further as an offense than we were this time last year. That's good to see, and hopefully we will have a lot more production than what we had last year.”
Holliday didn’t like having to start Cato last season, but the Miami native forced his hand with a strong preseason. But each week proved to be a learning experience for Cato, not just as a player but as a representative of Marshall football.
This year, the Herd (3-4, 2-1 C-USA) is reaping the benefits. Cato is the nation’s top passer, completing 249 of 354 passes for 2,651 yards (an average of 378.7 per game). He has 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
“All freshmen go through growing pains,” Holliday said. “That's why you should never have to play a true freshman quarterback. He will never face adversity on the football field like he has faced in his life growing up. There's not an arena he will walk into that is going to intimidate him.
“He's grown from that game and is so much more secure and confident. That game last year was a part of the growing process.”
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