Players of past like the present
HUNTINGTON -- Special tutoring for Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato ended Saturday afternoon.
The record-setting senior got to spend the past few days with Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich, former Thundering Herd standout quarterbacks who went on to play in the NFL. Pennington and Leftwich also served as coaches Saturday for the annual Green and White Spring Game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
"It's been a blessing to talk to them and see their point of view," Cato said. "I know there's still work to be done. You couldn't ask for better people to talk to. They're great role models."
Team Leftwich got the best of Team Pennington, 30-13.
While the other Thundering Herd quarterbacks picked the brains of Pennington and Leftwich, other position players had similar experiences with former or current NFL players. Wide receiver Tommy Shuler talked with Randy Moss and Troy Brown. Defensive ends conversed with Vinny Curry. And defensive backs chatted with Chris Crocker.
Pennington and Leftwich realize the talents the current Herd players have, the ones they used to win 10 games, a Conference USA East Division title and beat Maryland in the Military Bowl a year ago.
They stressed mental toughness is key as Marshall seeks to go even higher in 2014.
"We have a good football team. It's time to take it to the next level," Leftwich said. "It takes leadership on the team to make that happen. It's out of the coaches' hands. It's up to those guys in those jerseys to have the most successful season they can, the most successful in Marshall history I'm here for them. Whatever we can do to help anybody. That's what we're here for."
The cornerstone for Marshall is Cato, who has broken one by one records once held by either Pennington or Leftwich.
"To see his development and where he is now as a football player is impressive," Leftwich said. "He's going to have all the numbers (records). That's OK. Me and Chad said that. It's good to see he came and got us."
Leftwich said he talked to players about the will to win -- about how you have to have it and understand it to get to the next level.
He also spoke about the need to understand the game.
"Football gods don't let you cheat anything," he said. "If you do, it always comes back to bite you. My message to the guys. ... the game cheats you, don't cheat it. Put the work in. You've got a lot of time to do all we need to do to get things started and ready to roll. The game of football is run by the players."
Pennington's message to the team was partly formed from time he spent with Herm Edwards -- his former coach with the New York Jets.
Edwards was in town Friday as the featured speaker at the Big Green Banquet.
"Coach Edwards talked about symptoms of success, how to survive success," Pennington said. "No. 1, you survive by playing to your own standards. Don't focus on anything else. Come to practice, come to the building every day and expect to get better. Don't worry about your opponent, worry about yourself.
"Coaches are there to coach and players are there to play. Coaches lay out the map and players take the road map and make it theirs. They take responsibility, they take ownership in it and it ends up working."
Pennington said seeing Shuler stand with Moss was something to behold. Moss has been where Shuler hopes to go.
"That's huge," he said. "Randy and Byron have been there, done that. To lead you have to serve first. You can't follow leaders with no production. You don't get anywhere. Randy and Byron are guys who have produced. Players are going to listen to those guys."
Crocker said it was fun being around the Herd team. During his time at Marshall, the Herd was a dominant force in the Mid-American Conference.
"I had the God-given ability and came to a place where they were able to bring it out of me," Crocker said. "I had unbelievable drive. I wanted to succeed at whatever level. College is transformation, becoming young men, better human beings. One percent go to the NFL. You formulate a plan of what you want to do in life beyond football. What aspirations do you have?
"It's very easy to sneak up on people. This team won't sneak up on anyone anymore. Marshall's playing great ball. There are high expectations. That's why the buzz is there. When I got here we already were winning, we wanted to keep it going. These guys want to start it back up. They have what it takes to do that."
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