HUNTINGTON -- The quarterback record books of Marshall University are home to some names many folks know. Chad Pennington, Byron Leftwich and Michael Payton are a few. Thundering Herd Coach Doc Holliday isn't ready to put sophomore signal-caller Rakeem Cato on that list after 11 career starts.
"He's not there yet," Holliday said after Marshall's 52-24 win over Western Carolina on Saturday. "He's a young guy. You need to give him time to grow up."
But with the numbers Cato has put up the past two weeks, there may be no choice but to start lumping him in with some of Marshall's best passers. And many people - Marshall and opposing coaches alike, plus his teammates - say it's Cato's maturation that has made him so effective.
Cato scorched the Catamounts for 377 yards and three touchdowns on 32-of-42 passing. Coupled with his 413-yard performance against West Virginia, it was the first time a Marshall quarterback had consecutive 300-plus-yard passing games since 2004, when Stan Hill threw for 439 yards in a Nov. 5 win over Akron and 348 yards in a Nov. 12 win over Bowling Green.
"I'm learning the system and learning the coverages, so I feel great back there," Cato said.
"I'm feeling calmer. I'm trusting the o-line, trusting my reads and trusting the coaches with the play calling."
The coaches are trusting him, too, expanding the playbook from last season, when he threw for 2,059 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. This season, he's already thrown for 790 yards, five touchdowns and one interception, completing nearly 73 percent of his passes. That completion percentage is up 13 points from last season. His 63 percent career completion rate is third-best in school history among quarterbacks who have attempted at least 300 passes, behind only Pennington and Leftwich.
Cato said he's received some great advice from Pennington, the school's career leader in passes attempted, passes completed, passing yards and passing touchdowns. When wise words come from a player with those credentials, and an NFL pedigree, they're easy to listen to.
"He's a great friend, always giving me positive feedback on the things I need to work on, things I need to tighten up on," Cato said. "We always talk on the friend level. He gives me great tips on throwing the ball and when not to throw the ball. He just took it to the next level with me."
Pennington isn't the only former Herd quarterback offering sage advice. Quarterback coach Tony Petersen sits atop most of Marshall's single-season passing charts and is a former Southern Conference Athlete of the Year. All that has helped Cato do things experienced quarterbacks do, like evenly distributing the ball. Against West Virginia, he completed passes to 13 receivers. He connected with 10 of the 12 players who caught passes against Western Carolina.