Each week of the college football season NCAA.com will take a look at the most impressive individual performances. Some weeks it may be one player who stands head and shoulders above everyone else. This week, Marshall's Rakeem Cato emerges as a true contender in the Heisman race.
Each year it seems we get a Rakeem Cato. Not that caliber of person. No, Rakeem Cato’s one of a kind. During preseason, though, we get a Rakeem Cato character; a guy repeatedly mentioned as a “Heisman darkhorse” or a “guy on the outside lookin’ in for the Heisman race.” These guys typically come from non-Power Five schools, and have, through their exceptional performance, injected a noteworthy tone to their teams garnering new attention. The spotlight lasts for a while, but typically dims unless that player’s season demands a steady eye or the competition field doesn’t quite pan out as expected. Or, well, sometimes we get a guy like Rakeem Cato who doesn’t let us forget, regardless of what anybody else is doing.
Maybe that’s because Cato’s a guy who deals in memories. Like the lack of memory growing up with his father, imprisoned before Cato was born and serving a lengthy sentence for armed robbery. Or when his grandfather told 13-year-old Cato his mother, his consistent ally, had died due to pneumonia.
On the way home, every coach voted Cato off the team except Luther Campbell, the rap star, who served as an assistant and punishment coach on the team. He reasoned Cato might’ve been emotional so far from home, and without any family to cheer him on like his teammates had. But Campbell would watch Cato, handle his outbursts, teach him how to act as a leader.
And when Cato plays, all this seems to be on display. Great athletes can play with such great control of their body it comes across as effortless. Like they’re not even trying; like they have some special access to a physical intelligence most never know exists. It’s a mindlessness, removing sport to its irreducible simplicities and executing to an unimaginable level for us simple people. Actions without thoughts.
Cato does the opposite. Emotion flows through his each movement, fueling him. His demeanor resembles a boxer, that simmering volatile pugnaciousness sharpened toward eliminating the opponent. Cato has the nimble hopping of a boxer, too, able to duck and slide and dip out of pressure quickly as a joystick motion. When everything looks like it’s falling apart on a play, that’s when Cato’s at his best, combining and improvising with all his talents. Oh, and he has a mini-torpedo for an arm.
What we’re saying is Rakeem Cato is a special enough quarterback for consideration that it shouldn’t matter what his Heisman competition is doing. But they are faltering. While it’s still his to lose, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott didn’t have a “moment” during his Auburn win. Most everyone else, save Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and later down the list Baylor’s Bryce Petty and Florida State’s Jameis Winston, has fallen short in their season’s crucial times. We’re waiting for a player to really seize the Heisman race this year.
So we’re saying there’s a chance. A deserving chance. Cato has fought to this point, squashing any and every objection to his existence, deaf to the word “no.” At this point, the only reason not to consider Cato is his competition, a similar argument made against Winston last year. But like Winston did, he's smashing each opponent along the way. He remains a dark horse, an underdog, in this race. But he’s trying to prove us wrong about that, too.