HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- There was a time, fleeting as it might have been, where the landscape of Marshall football in 2013 could have changed.
The Thundering Herd might not have been preparing with quarterback Rakeem Cato and receiver Tommy Shuler to play Florida International University. It might have been preparing to face Cato and Shuler and the rest of the Panthers.
FIU - in particular, former FIU cffensive coordinator Bill Legg - wanted the duo to stick around Miami and didn't wait very long to offer them the chance. But Legg ended up on Marshall's staff, Cato and Shuler joined him in Huntington and now the record-breaking pair will help the Herd against the Panthers in their trip Saturday to Miami (6 p.m., Fox College Sports Central).
Sealing the deal with Cato and Shuler would have been a nice little coup for the Panthers who, when the two were seniors at Miami Central, had been a Football Bowl Subdivision program for just five years. Through stints at Miami Springs and Miami Central, Cato became Dade County's all-time leading passer, throwing for 9,412 yards and 103 touchdowns. Shuler gained more than 3,000 yards and scored 30 touchdowns.
Shuler remembers that it didn't take until they were seniors for FIU to throw its hat in the ring with them. After their close friend, current Indianapolis Colt T.Y. Hilton, started starring for the Panthers, Legg approached them on FIU's behalf.
"We got offered on the 7-on-7 field at FIU," Shuler said. "We were freshmen playing, and T.Y. went down there and made the program big, so our coaches wanted to show respect and go down to their camp, and Coach Legg offered us right there on the field."
Legg said they weren't official offers at the camp, but he told Cato and Shuler's coaches that they both had scholarships waiting for them at FIU. The FIU staff at the time saw the potential in both, even at that early age, Legg said, and both looked like they'd fit in the scheme they were trying to develop.
"Well, A, they had the skill set," Legg said. "There's certain things you can't coach. They had some of those things you can't coach. The second thing is they're two of the most competitive individuals I've ever been around, as high school kids. Extremely competitive. They wanted to win every play."
Shuler said the experience Hilton had at FIU raised his and Cato's antennae toward the school.
"Coach Legg took care of T.Y.," Shuler said. "He told T.Y. that if he came down there, he'd get him in the game, get him the ball and let him make plays for them. So we were like, he did that with T.Y., if we go down there and work hard, he can do the same thing for us."