HUNTINGTON — From a personal standpoint this season, things are quite surreal for Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and wide receiver Tommy Shuler.
Friends since they were 7-years-old, Cato and Shuler used to talk about making it big one day in football.
At the time, neither dreamt it possible to make the journey together.
However, that opportunity presented itself in high school when Cato and Shuler were both recruited by Marshall.
It was something they couldn't pass up.
"We go home and joke about that," Shuler said. "(Cato's) made the comment, 'Boy, the work paid off.' He's right. It's paying off right now."
Statistically, the two Miami products are both among the top 10 nationally at their respective positions.
Cato has thrown for 2,311 yards this season while completing 70 percent of his passes. Shuler has caught 58 passes in six games for 562 yards.
The two connected for the most receptions in one game when Shuler caught 19 passes for 200 yards against Purdue. However, that game - like many others in the first half of the season -- ended in disappointment as the Herd lost despite statistical dominance.
Cato has said several times that Aaron Dobson's presence on the outside forces the defense to have a safety over the top, meaning that Shuler is going to be lined up in several man-to-man situations.
At that point, it becomes just like playing pitch and catch in the yards of Miami.
"We've been doing that since way back - just going out there and having fun with each other," Cato said. "He's got a great I.Q. for the game of football and I know where he's going to be at and he knows I'm going to throw the ball to him."
All it takes for the duo is eye-contact once they see the defense and the other knows exactly what's going through the other's head.
In all the nation, there might only be one other quarterback-receiver duo that can boast of such a life-long bond, and it just so happens to be a pair of guys from just down the road who are now playing in the same state as Cato and Shuler - West Virginia's Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey.
Shuler joked around that the dueling duos give football a fun game-within-the-game as they prepare for Saturdays.
"We love to battle with them. They are from Broward and we are from Miami," Shuler said. "Dade County and Broward always go at it with each other. Me and Cato always look and say 'Man, we've got to beat Geno and Sted out.' We have to have jokes like that to keep things loose a bit."
The dynamic between Cato and Shuler is an intriguing one - almost like a perfect balance.
Cato is the fiery competitor that likes to get everyone's blood pumping and get the crowd into the game. Shuler is more the silent assassin on the field and also a calming force for Cato off the field.
Shuler even laughed about some of Cato's antics and the fun they have back and forth on the field.
"Getting ready for the game, Cato tries to go out and have a mean face," Shuler said. "I'll go and tap him and he'll just start laughing. He's just funny with some things. After he makes a big play, you can hear him talking and with how he talks, you can't understand him. I'll just look at him and be like 'Huh?' Those are the little things we love to do every week."
Last week against Tulsa, things started going astray for the Herd as they fell behind 17-3. Cato's competitive spirit came out as he came to the sidelines visibly upset and getting after his teammates to step up.
Knowing Cato needed to get back in the right frame of mind, Shuler went to him and calmed him down. The Herd scored a pair of touchdowns to knot the game before the half.
"He's so hyped and into the game and wants to win so bad," Shuler said. "You need that as a quarterback. Other quarterbacks try to be calm and he just lets himself out. He's going to show his feelings and his emotion.
"When we were down, I told him that team isn't 14 points better than us. He said 'You're right. We are just starting slow.' I told him 'Pick it up. Once you start your atmosphere up, everyone is going to follow you.' He got into his groove and started striking. The crowd got into it, he got into it and everyone got behind him."
Keeping the atmosphere loose has not been so easy for the Herd duo over the past couple of weeks as mistakes and losses have piled up, leading the Herd to an early 2-4 record.
According to Shuler, the bye week couldn't come at a better time for the Herd.
"After so many losses, I feel like we un-bonded," Shuler said. "We are using this week to bond and get that back like what we did in camp. We are going to go to Southern Miss and start this six-game stretch and get this done."
The Herd gets back to work with film study on Sunday afternoon before a week's worth of practice leading up to the team's departure for Hattiesburg, Miss., for Saturday's 7 p.m. contest at Southern Miss.
Cato said over the final six games, it is on the Herd and the Herd alone to start turning close losses into victories.
"No one has stopped us. We've stopped ourselves," Cato said. "Once we start to correct the small, simple mistakes, the sky is the limit for us."