The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

August 19, 2012

Back into the fire

Herd’s Cato ready for sophomore season

HUNTINGTON — For a true freshman quarterback, there’s being thrown into the fire, and then there’s the situation Rakeem Cato faced a year ago.

The Miami native and Marshall quarterback made his college debut not in the friendly confines of Joan C. Edwards Stadium, but in rabid Milan Puskar Stadium. More than 60,000 gold-and-blue-clad WVU fans spewing their venom was an experience that left Cato in need of some Advil.

“It was a headache,” Cato said, point blank. “I’m not going to sit here and sugarcoat anything. Going in there with (60,000) fans, especially on third down and the bell goes off. It was a lot for me coming into my first college game. It shocked me a lot.”

And it had nothing to do with the lightning that forced the game to be stopped early.

As pressure-packed as was Cato’s first trip to Morgantown, it was just one step of a 12-week maturation process. As he prepares for his sophomore year — which starts Sept. 1 at the same place the whole thing began — Cato believes he is better off after all the growing pains of a season ago.

“My first year was a learning experience,” Cato said. “I look at tape every day to see what I did wrong. I try to make progress every time I come out here to practice. I just want to be great.”

That potential certainly exists for the 6-foot, 182-pound Cato. He came to Marshall with big credentials as a record-setting quarterback out of Miami Central High.

His first year at Marshall was marked with highs and lows. From an upset win at Louisville to a four-interception game at Ohio, Cato went through every emotion.

Then came a rainy night in Orlando. Playing in Cato’s home state, in front of family and friends, Marshall lost the game — and Cato lost his job.

He reportedly was involved in a heated sideline phone exchange with an assistant coach and later made an obscene gesture at fans.

Cato was benched in favor of A.J. Graham, who started the next four games before suffering a season-ending injury.

Regardless of how it turned out, Cato learned from the situation.

“It’s tough going in as a true freshman, and Cato’s got the personality that we just had some stuff that we need to work on,” quarterbacks coach Tony Petersen said. “He did a good job in the offseason of working on it. We’ve worked through some things, and I think he has grown up a lot and he’s ready to have a big season.”

“It’s very different,” Cato said of his confidence level. “The game has slowed down for me. I can focus now and I don’t have to play with all the pressure on my back. Just going out there and playing football that I normally play and it’s just working in my favor right now.”

Petersen said Cato’s on-field improvement can be seen in two ways.

“One, he got a whole bunch of reps last year and had a great offseason,” Petersen said. “Two, he’s gotten bigger. He’s gained some weight and he’s put on a lot of muscle. So he’s got a lot of confidence in what he’s doing and he’s bigger and stronger. That’s usually a good sign for quarterbacks.”

Cato completed 182 of 304 passes for 2,059 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season. He believes he is ready to improve on those numbers, partly through his own ability but also based on an experienced group of wide receivers.

From Biletnikoff Award candidate Aaron Dobson to Antavious Wilson and Andre Booker, Cato can distribute the ball to a number of players who have been there, done that.

“They see things that I don’t,” Cato said. “They come to me and tell me what’s open and what’s not open. I just feed off them, because they have been here a lot longer than me. Whatever they say goes. I’m just feeding off them.”

“He’s got a lot of people to throw the ball to,” Petersen said. “But he knows where to throw the ball and he knows how to get rid of it quick. He’s making good decisions.”

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