HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Rakeem Cato's assault on the Marshall University football team's passing records has only just begun, and he already finds himself in rarified air.
His 375 completions in 2012 have shattered the Thundering Herd's best single-season mark. His 544 attempts are second-best in a season in school history. His 3,883 yards are the fourth-best total for one season and his 32 touchdowns are seventh-best.
The sophomore still has at least one game to go to build on those numbers. He'll lead the Herd (5-6, 4-3 Conference USA) into Greenville, N.C., on Friday for a 2 p.m. clash on CBS Sports Network with East Carolina (7-4, 6-1 C-USA). He'd love to have two more games, and if he helps beat the Pirates, he'll get them. One more win makes the Herd bowl-eligible for the second straight year.
As Cato continues his journey through one of the best seasons for a quarterback in Marshall history, he has two former Herd passers he can thank for their advice. One, Tony Petersen, is Cato's quarterback coach and co-offensive coordinator. The other, Chad Pennington, is considered the standard-bearer among Marshall quarterbacks.
Cato said having two of Marshall's greatest signal-callers in his corner has helped him in a very short time become one of college football's most prodigious passers and reach some of his own lofty expectations.
"Coming in as a freshman, I'm thinking I'm going to come in and do the exact same things and my standards were extra high," he said. "It didn't happen as I planned. Stuff like that will turn you and bring so much anger and emotion. That's when (Pennington) came in and Coach Petersen, just slowing down the game and just taking time doing it and just focusing."
In one category, the student has bested the teacher. Cato now owns the single-season completion record over Petersen (340 in 1987). Petersen's single-season attempts (622 in 1987) and yards (4,902 in 1987) look safe.
The Herd quarterbacks coach isn't sighing in relief. Let 'em all fall, he said.
"I hope he breaks any record I've ever had," Petersen said. "That means he's doing a great job. I think he's a lot better quarterback than I ever was."
That means something coming from one of the most successful quarterbacks in Marshall history. In 1987, as he shattered the Herd's single-season passing marks, he led the team to the Division I-AA national title game, where Louisiana-Monroe edged Marshall, 43-42. He was named Southern Conference Offensive Player and Athlete of the Year before signing as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings.
The sum of those experiences put Petersen in a unique position to teach Cato how to improve his game. It's not just "do as I say." It's "do as I did" as well. And Petersen feels Cato appreciates the advice, especially considering Petersen did many of the things Cato is trying to accomplish.
"I think Cato and I have a good relationship as far as a player and coach," he said, "and I think he respects what I have to say because I played the position at a pretty decent level."
There have been rough patches in the relationship. When Cato was learning on the fly as a true freshman starter, his competitiveness would sometimes boil over into anger. That culminated at the end of last season's loss at the University of Central Florida, when Cato stormed over to the sideline phone and argued with Petersen.
That outburst cost Cato his starting job, giving it to former quarterback A.J. Graham for four games. But Cato was quick to apologize to both the team and Petersen. He didn't make excuses, but worked his way back into the starting lineup. When Graham injured his shoulder against Tulsa, Cato reclaimed the job and led the Herd to a Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl win over Florida International.
Cato knows what Petersen's guidance has meant to his growth as a quarterback and his eye-popping 2012 numbers. He treasures it, along with the knowledge that Petersen has walked the identical steps he has.
"It's easy knowing I don't have a quarterback coach that played somewhere else or didn't play football at all," Cato said. "My quarterback coach played here at Marshall and he knows what it takes to win. He played so great at this level and also had the opportunity to play at the next level."
There are some times, though, when a young quarterback needs advice from someone beyond his position coach, someone who's shared his experiences and knows exactly what he's going through.
Who better than Pennington?
Heisman Trophy finalist. Two-time Davey O'Brien Award finalist. Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Three-time all-MAC first-team quarterback. Eleven-season NFL veteran.