It was 690 days ago — June 16, 2012 at 11:03 a.m. — when Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato sent his final, profound tweet.
“yeah,” read Cato’s last post on the social media website Twitter. He’s permitted 140 characters per tweet, but he didn’t need the final 136 of the allotment.
And he hasn’t needed the Twitter account since.
Cato, who has posted gaudy numbers as the Herd’s QB and will likely enter his senior season on the early list of Heisman Trophy contenders, is a rarity among college athletes these days. While past Heisman winners like quarterback Johnny Manziel, a sure-fire first-round pick in Thursday’s NFL Draft, have nearly 800,000 Twitter followers and a history of dos and don’ts on social networks, Cato stays mum.
He’s not focused on what’s happening outside the lines, especially entering his final season of eligibility and with the expectations running high in Herd country.
Appropriate hashtag: #focused
“What he’s doing is extremely smart,” said Chad Pennington, a record-setting quarterback at Marshall who made 89 starts in the NFL. “Football is very difficult and you have a lot of moving parts, a lot of people. The team needs to understand who the leader is, and you don’t lead on Twitter.
“You lead on the field.”
Byron Leftwich, another Herd QB great who made 50 starts in the NFL, agrees with Pennington. Neither Leftwich nor Pennington are active Twitter users.
“He shouldn’t be on there,” Leftwich said of Cato. “He better stay off it. That would be my advice. I see the mistakes that people make and they’re unfortunate mistakes, uncalled-for mistakes.”
Cato isn’t a mistake maker, clearly. He had only 20 interceptions in 1,083 pass attempts the last two seasons. Of course, he’s always had the physical gifts to play the quarterback position. Now, however, he is the complete package coaches covet.
“Not just the on-the-field stuff, but off the field too,” said Bill Legg, Marshall’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “Just the maturity level. He came here as an 18-year-old kid and now he’s a 22-year-old man. We aren’t all as mature as we’d like to believe at 18 years old, but he’s taken coaching and he’s continued to grow as a person and he’s continued to grow as a player.
“Expectations are high on him, but none higher than the ones he places on himself.”
Cato, once benched as a true freshman in favor of erstwhile Marshall QB A.J. Graham, is climbing career statistical lists that include Leftwich and Pennington. Neither will likely be able to stave off Cato’s charge, barring injury.
Cato has 10,176 passing yards with, perhaps, as many as 14 games left of his collegiate career. He is already No. 77 on the NCAA’s all-time passing list. Leftwich is No. 21 on the same list with 11,903 yards. Pennington is No. 34 nationally with 11,446 yards. Cato might catch them both by the time Conference USA play commences in October. A 4,000-yard season puts Cato in the top 10 for passing yards by any major college quarterback ... ever.
Cato is No. 29 on the NCAA’s all-time passing touchdowns list with 91. He needs 33 touchdown passes — below his average of 38 the past two seasons — to climb into the top five in college football history.
That’s a long way to come since a post-UCF benching, eh?
“You can hear the maturity, how far he has come, when you talk to him,” Leftwich said. “If you listen to an interview from two years ago and an interview today, they sound different because the kid is learning. He’s learning and developing. You can’t ask anymore from a kid than that.”
Part of that learning curve is how to block out distractions. Checking mentions from anonymous social-media users on Twitter isn’t the way to do that.
Cato, who turned 22 in March, has grown much more than that scraggly beard. He has grown as a student, athlete, teammate and leader.
“As a player you have to be self-motivated,” Cato said. “If you put your personal life out there, you have to be accountable for that. If you choose to have a Twitter or a thousand social networks, be a man and don’t put anything crazy on there.”
It is Cato’s final insight, however, that deserves to be favorited.
“That thumb will get you in trouble,” he said. “That send button is trouble.”