HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Rakeem Cato is never without football. If the Marshall coaches give the team time off, he'll spend it drawing up plays, or watching film, or grabbing a couple of receivers to run some routes and work on their timing.
That wasn't a learned behavior, he said. It's an instinct owned by any young man growing up in Miami, Fla.
"Down in Miami, it's strictly football," Cato said. "That's the biggest thing down there. It's straight football from 6 years old all the way up. They take it so personally down there, you have no choice but to get better and want to become an NFL player."
They like winners in Miami, be it the Dolphins, Heat, Marlins or Hurricanes. All those teams own championship trophies. Cato does, too. His Miami Central High School team won the 2010 Class 6A Florida state title. He'd like to add some college championship hardware to his collection.
Sure, he has some personal accolades - Conference USA MVP, preseason C-USA player of the year, the top Football Bowl Subdivision passing numbers in 2012 - but, in his mind, those aren't enough. The mission in 2013 is to improve one number, his win total.
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday has seen a lot of changes in his star quarterback. Cato began his career as a skinny, 160-pound freshman thrust into a starting role from his first collegiate game. Now he's a 192-pound junior coming off a breakthrough season where he led the FBS in completions (33.83) and passing yards (350.08) per game.
Holliday knows Cato wants to get better, and improving his on-field performance is part of that. But it's not the only part.
"I think he's fueled by it," Holliday said, "but I also think he understands that he'll trade all that in to go win a championship and go win a game. At the end of the day, when you win, all those stats take care of themselves. He's a competitive guy in everything he does. I think it's even more important to him that, as a football team, we find a way to go and win. That's what he's concerned about."
Beyond the raw numbers, Cato wants to become a more prominent voice in the locker room. Being a prolific starting FBS quarterback already carries weight in meeting rooms, but Cato wants his leadership to be more than just about touchdown passes and yards per game. He's a fiery, competitive player - you don't win in talent-gorged Dade County high school football without those traits - who wants his teammates to take the game as seriously as he does.
"I've really got to take charge," Cato said. "I'm the quarterback of this team. I have to set my standards high. I have to play the game right on the field and off the field."