HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Since grade school, Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato has cultivated the skill in his right arm.
This season, he used it to lead the nation in passing. Conference USA's coaches saw it and named him the conference's most valuable player.
Cato, a sophomore from Miami, became the first underclassman to be named league MVP. Teammate Kevin Grooms joined Cato on the awards list, as the running back was named freshman of the year.
Cato is the first Marshall offensive player to win a top conference award since quarterback Byron Leftwich was named the Mid-American Conference's 2002 offensive player of the year.
Grooms is the Herd's first league freshman of the year since Randy Moss won the Southern Conference's award in 1996.
Cato credits his older brother, Antwain, with helping him become a better passer. Antwain was a baseball guy and started Cato's development along baseball lines. That development quickly moved to football.
"He played pitcher and catcher and he taught me his fundamentals on how to throw the ball," Cato said. "We practiced constantly, every night, we'd go out in the back of the house. I'd get on one knee and throw the ball. I'd sit on my butt and throw the ball."
At age 6, he said he was throwing downfield in youth football leagues when other teams didn't.
In 2012, Cato led the Football Bowl Subdivision in completions per game (33.83), passing yards per game (350.08), was third in touchdown passes (37) and fifth in both total offense (352.67 yards per game) and completion percentage (69.5).
All those numbers led C-USA.
With Cato under center, Marshall led the FBS with 365.08 passing yards per game.
In the Herd's single-season record books, he finished first in completions (406), second in attempts (584), third in yards (4,201) and tied for third in touchdowns (37).
That's after a freshman season where he completed 182 of 304 passes for 2,059 yards and 15 touchdowns.
It's not just Cato's physical talent that allowed him to make his quantum leap in 2012.