Chuck Landon: Cato not about to cave under pressure
Rakeem Cato has stared adversity in the eye his entire life.
And never blinked.
So, does anybody actually think Marshall's quarterback is going to be intimidated by having to lead the Herd to consecutive wins to attain bowl eligibility?
Does anybody really believe Cato is going to feel pressure to win out?
Does anybody truly think this bowl-elimination game between Marshall and Houston at noon, Saturday, in Edwards Stadium is going to take Cato aback?
Not a chance.
"It's do or die," said the sophomore. "We're trying to figure out what we can do right to get these last two games. It's going to be a lot of pressure on me. But I love the pressure on me.
"All my life I've been dodging downs and bumps. It's nothing to me. I can handle all this. I'm going to go out there and play my heart out. That's one thing I can say."
That's because Cato is the quarterback and he relishes that role.
"It starts with me," he said emphatically. "It starts with me as a leader on this team and a quarterback on this team. It's up to me to lead this team the right way and starting today, we're going to get it done."
Not that Cato ever expected the season to come down to this now-or-never premise. He most certainly didn't. Cato and his teammates expected to compete for the Conference USA championship, but now they can't even finish the regular season with a winning record.
Think Cato is happy about that?
"I don't want that," he said. "I'm pretty sure nobody around me wants that. We set out aiming high. Unfortunately, none of that came true. I mean, there's plenty more time for us to learn. We have a young team.
"We just have to learn to play together and stick together."
That starts Saturday. It has to if Marshall is going to win back-to-back games for the first time this season.
"It's possible," said Cato firmly. "I know that we can win two games straight. But you've got to have the will and desire to do it. I'm going to play my heart out and try to get everybody up to my standard and to my capability.
"It's about will to win and wanting to win these two games. Not only to make me happy, but to take the seniors out on a good route. Even though our season has had ups and downs. ... just to go out there and have fun at a bowl game.
"That was the greatest experience last year. I'm just trying to take us out right."
That means Cato has to step up and face adversity.
So, what else is new?
"This is nothing," said Cato. "I've done been through way worse than this and accomplished way more than this. I know how to deal with this sort of stuff.
"We need to go out there and have fun. That's the one thing that has been missing out there these last couple games, having fun. We play too up-tight. We try to let things come to us. We have to go out there and just take it.
"We have to go out there and play with a smile on our face. This is a game we love. We all love to play this game. Once we do that, we're going to be good."
And that starts Saturday.
Marshall will win, 48-34.
Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at email@example.com.