HUNTINGTON - To a man, college football players will never forget their first game experience, good, bad, colorful, etc.
For quarterback Rakeem Cato and a few of his Marshall teammates, that moment came last September at West Virginia. Cato may remember it better than most - he was a true freshman out of high school, starting in his first college game in a hostile environment.
Hailing from the streets of Miami, Cato wasn't shaken, yet he took notice.
"When I first came out for the warmup, I was hazed by a lot of fans," he said last week. "A lot of fans talking stuff to me. And [on] third down, that's probably the loudest place I've ever been."
Offensive coordinator Bill Legg, much more familiar with audiences at Mountaineer Field, was curious to see how Cato responded.
"The fact that he didn't pee down his leg, I thought that was a good, positive thing," Legg said. "The fact he went out there and he was excited about the opportunity to play. I thought for the most part, through all the delays and the thunderstorms and so forth, I thought he did a pretty good job."
It wasn't a great game for Cato, who finished 15 of 21 for 115 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. He did drive the ball down to the WVU 8-yard line late in the first half to set up a field goal, but failed to get the Herd to the end zone after having a first-and-goal from the WVU 3 in the third quarter.
Tyler Warner's 21-yard field goal cut WVU's lead to 20-13, but that's not what the Herd had in mind for the drive of five-plus minutes. Cato's first-down play was a short pass to Gator Hoskins, who was thrown for a 1-yard loss, and then Travon Van was stopped for no gain on second down.
On third down, Cato tried to throw to Aaron Dobson on a fade route, a play doomed from the outside. With good coverage by Pat Miller, Cato might have fared better throwing elsewhere.
After Tavon Austin's 100-yard kickoff return and a three-hour thunderstorm delay, Cato threw an incompletion and was sacked in a three-and-out. With another storm and an early end to the game, Cato never saw the ball again.
As strange as that start was, Cato's season took several more twists. He threw three touchdowns in a win over Southern Mississippi and tossed two more in conquering Louisville.
But then he suffered a horrendous game at Central Florida, lost his composure on the sidelines and was benched. He was inserted into the Rice game twice, suffering two three-and-outs, and led the Herd on a touchdown drive in mop-up time at Houston. He also threw a touchdown pass late in the Herd's romp over Alabama-Birmingham, after A.J. Graham threw for five scores.
When Graham injured his shoulder in the Herd's debacle at Tulsa, Cato returned and became the undisputed starter when Eddie Sullivan quit the team. Cato's start against Memphis didn't go well, as his fumble was returned for a touchdown that gave the Tigers a 22-10 lead in the fourth quarter.
But the Herd rallied against the Tigers, beat East Carolina in overtime and downed Florida International in the bowl game. In those last two wins, he was 50 of 68 for 567 yards, four touchdowns and one interception - an excellent NCAA passer rating of 160.