Marshall football: Cato heads home to face familiar faces
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato was asked how many players he knew on the roster of the Thundering Herd's Saturday opponent, Florida Atlantic University. There were some impressive names on the list.
There was the Owls' starting middle linebacker, Andrae Kirk, who played with Cato and Herd receiver Tommy Shuler on the 2010 Miami Central High state championship team. There was starting strong safety Damian Parms from Monsignor Pace High in Miami and starting defensive end Martin Wright from Booker T. Washington High in Miami.
These aren't just acquaintances. They're players Cato knows personally. Plenty of Herd players find themselves in that circumstance as they prepare for their 5 p.m. (Fox College Sports) game in Boca Raton, Fla. But how much does that familiarity help in scouting an opponent?
Not as much as you'd think, Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said.
"I don't know if there's any tendencies," he said. "You can talk a little about who fast he is, if he's tough, those types of things. Beyond that, that's about as far as it goes."
Cato agreed. With 21/2 seasons passed between their high school days and the present, a lot can change. Players can get stronger, quicker and better, and Cato said it's best to let the players learn for themselves through film work rather than South Florida natives offering tutorials.
"We're not going to change anyone's style of play," Cato said. "We'll let the coaches take care of anything. We'll let the coaches coach and let everything be what it is. As long as everyone brings their 'A' game, there shouldn't be a problem."
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HOLLIDAY, CONSIDERED one of the country's top recruiters, long has used the South Florida pipeline to populate his rosters. But he doesn't feel that winning Saturday against an opponent from that area - and a rival on the recruiting trail - will make the recruiting flag he's planted in that region any tougher to uproot.
"They're all big," Holliday said. "Anytime you play a conference game, they're all big. The ultimate goal is to win a conference championship, so you play every one of them like it's a playoff game at this point."
Pelini looks at it the same way. He realizes Holliday's presence in that area has been solid since the 1980s, and that one win wouldn't be a deathblow in a recruiting battle. Pelini feels that the Owls will gain a foothold in the competition for players through long-term improvement.
"If we earn ourselves into a position as an option for these guys, then that is because of how we play week after week after week and I don't know that one game is going to sway a lot of kids," he told reporters Monday. "Marshall has a long history and a long tradition that obviously we don't have here, being a relatively new and start up program. To start putting ourselves at their level, we have got to do that week after week after week and season after season."
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WHILE MUCH of the spotlight has fallen on FAU quarterback Jaquez Johnson - and for good reason, after he gained 404 total yards, threw for two touchdowns and ran for another last week - the Herd isn't overlooking a couple other key offensive players.
Starting running back Jonathan Wallace, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior, is seventh in Conference USA with 69.7 rushing yards per game. Receiver William Dukes, a 6-4, 190-pound junior, averages 13.4 yards per catch, leads the Owls with four touchdown catches, and was named with Marshall's Tommy Shuler to the Biletnikoff Award watch list.
"They've got a lot of that read series, where you hand the football to a good running back or take it yourself," Herd defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said. "And they're both legitimate guys, so you've got that problem. Then, if you get too nosy up in there, they've got receivers that can win outside. I think they're getting better. They're good players getting better every week."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.