HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato vowed after Saturday's loss to Purdue that the rest of college football would soon find out about receiver Tommy Shuler.
Conference USA definitely knows about him now.
After catching a team-record 19 passes, a total that also tied the conference record for single-game receptions, the sophomore was named Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week. He's become a focal point of Marshall's offense as he finds his niche among seniors like Antavious Wilson and preseason all-conference pick Aaron Dobson.
At 5-foot-8, he doesn't have the size of Wilson (6-1) or Dobson (6-3). He admits he doesn't have their downfield speed. He just has a knack for finding open spaces in defenses and being ready for every Cato throw. It's a trait he's spent years perfecting.
It's a kind of football alchemy. He'll take a route and add a juke or a head fake in just the right spot - he calls it "adding hot sauce" - to put a defender on his heels and gain a little more daylight.
"You can give him one step," he said. "You can give him a head nod. You can give him a double step. Going into a defender and knowing you have to play him all night, you have to give him different moves, so he doesn't just sit on one move. When you give him different moves, he doesn't know what to go for."
Cato, Shuler's teammate from youth leagues to Miami Central High School to now, is one of Shuler's favorite collaborators. At any time, the two will just head outside with a football. Shuler may have a specific route in mind, or Cato has a suggestion of his own. They'll run through it to see if Cato will have enough time in the pocket for Shuler to finish his shake-and-bake and get open.
Cato finds comfort in knowing his longtime teammate can stick just about any route either comes up with. And he finds joy in watching Shuler make some defensive backs stumble in confusion.
"Sometimes he'll give a move on a quarterback, and I'll just be laughing in the backfield," Cato said. "It's just a sick move that always works."
Shuler's 19 catches shattered Marshall's old record of 15 shared by three former Thundering Herd receivers. He now has 51 catches in five games, the most of any receiver in the Football Bowl Subdivision. His 10.2 catch-per-game average is third best overall. This comes after a freshman year where he caught just 14 passes all season.