HUNTINGTON — For the first time since their Pop Warner days, Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and receiver Tommy Shuler will be on opposite sides of the field.
The duo have played on the same team through high school, winning a state title at Miami Central High, and were on two bowl-winning teams for the Thundering Herd. Yet in Saturday’s 2 p.m. Green-White spring game, Cato will be on a team coached by former Herd great Chad Pennington, while Shuler will be on a team coached by another Herd standout, Byron Leftwich.
That doesn’t bother Cato. In fact, he said, he wouldn’t put him and Shuler on the same roster.
“That’d be cheating,” he said with a smile.
The Herd’s spring season will end a little differently than it has in the past. In prior years, the Green-White game was an offense-versus-defense affair at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. This season, Team Pennington versus Team Leftwich will be a split-squad scrimmage. Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick’s Twitter feed hosted a draft over the last few weeks, as Pennington and Leftwich’s teams were built position by position.
Cato said the new format has offered a spark that’s helped the players get through the tail end of the spring season. Their coaches for the exhibition have provided the same type of jolt.
“It’s great,” Cato said. “It’s great. It’s getting all the guys in the locker room lit up. All week, they’d been asking, ‘Whose team are you on? Whose team are you on?’ Everyone’s really pumped about it, and we don’t want to let those guys down.
“Byron, his standards are so high,” he added, “and Chad, his standards are so high, that we don’t want to let them down.”
Those are words Marshall coach Doc Holliday likes to hear. In his years in coaching, he said there have been some springs where doldrums lead the players to trudge to the finish. Holliday said he’s liked the energy through the home stretch.
“Sometimes, that last week, it starts to drag a little bit,” Holliday said. “And they want it to be over instead of getting better.”
Some of the more established names on Marshall’s roster might not see as much playing time Saturday as others, Holliday said. Those players, he knows what they’re capable of. There are others, though – players who are younger, less experienced or haven’t reached what coaches consider their potential – that Holliday will observe quite closely.
“The guys we really want to see finish things up the right way are the guys that we’ve challenged,” Holliday said. “We challenged eight or nine guys that we’ve expected to get better and the spring game is just another opportunity for them to do that.”
Cato is one of those players who needs little analysis. His 2012 Conference USA MVP award and 2013 conference offensive player of the year award should be evidence enough of his capabilities. Yet, with his mentor Pennington leading his team, he said he’s not really interested in riding the bench.
“I’m going to try to stay in,” Cato said. “There’s a lot good guys on Byron’s team, but Chad’s team, we’re going to try to pull it out. I’m going to talk to Coach and hopefully I’ll get a lot of playing time.”
Tickets are available through Marshall’s official athletic website, Herdzone.com, or by calling 800-THE-HERD for $5 each until 5 p.m. today, and then will be available at the gate Saturday. Seating is general admission on the west side of the stadium.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.