Marshall junior quarterback Rakeem Cato hopes to one day follow former Thundering Herd signal-callers Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich into the NFL.
Cato certainly has the stats: He threw for 4,201 yards and 37 TDs last season, completing 69.5 percent of his nation-high 584 attempts. The yardage total was the fifth-highest in the nation and the touchdown total tied for the third-most. He could surpass those numbers in a pass-happy Herd offense this fall.
He also is helping his potential draft stock by gaining weight. Cato is 6-foot tall, and he weighed only 150 pounds when he arrived on campus after a great prep career in Miami (he is the career leader in passing yards in Miami-Dade County history). Yes, you read that right: 150 pounds.
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He told the Huntington (W. Va.) Herald-Dispatch that he now weighs 193.
"It's a whole lot different," he told the paper. "A whole lot."
Cato, who has added almost 10 pounds since last season, said the added weight has led to more strength, which has helped him with throws and his ability to move around in the pocket.
"The kicker in the whole thing is he's not only bigger; he got stronger, he's also quicker and faster than he was when he first got here, which, at the end of the day, is what you are looking for," offensive coordinator Bill Legg told the Herald-Dispatch.
Cato was the Conference USA offensive player of the year last season, when the Herd went 5-7. There are higher expectations this season, and the offense should be one of the top five in the nation. Marshall was sixth in total offense last season (534.5 yards per game) and seventh in scoring offense (40.9 points per game). Alas, the Herd gave up 43.1 points per game and surrendered 50 points a staggering five times, which led to the losing record.
New defensive coordinator Chuck Heater has installed a base 4-2-5 defense, which should help stanch some of the bleeding. But the key to a winning season will be the offense, which has four returning starting linemen, a deep group of tailbacks and a talented receiving corps. It also has a bigger Cato, which might be the most important component of all.