WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato's growth as a signal-caller has come in more areas than just the ones seen on a stat sheet.
"I'll tell you how far he's come: his teammates elected him captain," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "That tells you a lot about what they think about him."
Though his numbers remain impressive, some of Cato's passing totals aren't at the mind-boggling levels of his Conference USA MVP season of 2012. The junior will trade those sophomore statistics in an instant for where he finds himself now - leading the Thundering Herd into Friday's Military Bowl game versus Maryland at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
When the Herd (9-4) lines up against the Terrapins (7-5) at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN, Cato will lean on the intangibles he's tried to develop in order to lead Marshall to its first 10-win season since 2002. That's pretty good for a player whose temper as a freshman sent him to the bench and into Holliday's doghouse.
"He's come a long way since those doghouse days," Holliday said.
Of course, it helps one to climb out of the doghouse when he leads the Herd to a Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl victory in his first year under center and leads the nation in passing yards as a sophomore. While those numbers dipped a bit in 2013 - he has 3,579 yards and 36 touchdowns in 13 games this year, compared to 4,201 yards and 37 touchdowns in 12 games last year - Holliday said Cato has become an even better quarterback.
How does that work? Coaches say Cato's decision-making has evolved into finding the plays that are best for Marshall's offense and not just the best for his record book. And he's found a way for his competitive fire to burn and do so as a team leader.
College football teams don't often want true freshmen to start under center, Herd offensive coordinator Bill Legg said, but Cato was thrown into the fire out of necessity. His sophomore season was spent learning to run the offense, which he showed he could do quite well. His junior season was time to understand the offense he was running.
"Not every play is perfect versus every defense, even if executed properly," Legg said. "What we worked on all last offseason and all fall camp is that understanding of 'What's the best play versus this compared to this?'
"And there's more than one and if I guessed right and I called one of those handful of plays, then we'll ride with that play. And if it's one of those plays where that play doesn't fit that look, what other plays do?
"He understands what those plays are," Legg said, "and he'll get us into those plays."