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Thundering Herd players spread cheer to D.C. kids

Dec. 26, 2013 @ 07:14 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato worked up quite a sweat while getting a workout in on Christmas morning.

He walked over to the water cooler, got a quick drink and was summoned back to his station before he could even finish.

Only this time it wasn't Marshall strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair getting after him, it was a sweet little girl who wanted to play with her dolls.

Cato and several of Marshall's football players entertained several underprivileged kids from an area shelter while also presenting them with lots of gifts at the Renaissance Washington, D.C., Downtown hotel on Wednesday morning.

"It's a blessing for me to see that we're able to bring them some smile," Cato said. "I know where I came from and I know what I've been through, so it means a lot to see these kids to have a smile on their face."

For Cato, being there for kids who might not have parents or whose families are currently living at the shelter hits especially near to his heart.

Cato's mother worked two jobs when he was young just to keep the family afloat and then the unthinkable happened. The lady who was his rock passed away when he was 13 after she contracted pneumonia.

It made for hard times at Christmas from an emotional and financial standpoint for Cato and his brothers and sisters.

"I feel what they are going through because I've been in the same boat," Cato said. "The only thing you can do is wake up and put a smile on your face and go at life the best way you can. That's why we do everything we can to put a smile on their face."

Several of the guys attending the event already have families of their own. Cato is a father, defensive end Jeremiah Taylor has a family and James Rouse also is married, meaning they were away from their families for the bowl game.

The smile of the kids made it a bit easier for those guys to be away from their families.

"They're eyes just light up and they just want to be with you for the entire time they can be," Taylor said. "I had as much fun as the dude I was with. His name was Gabe. He's pretty good at basketball, too."

Another fun aspect was seeing some of the guys who are never around kids step outside of the role of solely being a football player for these events.

As an example, Essray Taliaferro is normally a quiet guy who goes about his business and comes to the field every day saying little and working a lot.

On Wednesday morning, he dropped his guard a little bit and joked and played with some of the kids, showing a side that not many of his teammates had seen.

"A lot of time, you don't get to see these guys around kids," Taylor said. "You see Taliaferro playing basketball with a kid or other guys playing with babies, that's stuff you don't see being around the football area. It's good to see that different side of guys."

Another guy that Cato pointed out was Marshall wide receiver Tommy Shuler. Cato said he had never seen Shuler around a group of kids, but that didn't stop Shuler from making the most of it, whether it was video games or a game called "Strike A Light" in which you have to hit the various lights on the board before they go out.

The object of the game is to score higher than your opponent and Shuler got a nice hand-eye coordination session in. He finished 5-0 while winning one game with three players on one side simultaneously against him.

The results didn't really matter to the kids, though.

Every single one of them won during the event.

"It's a great feeling because when we were young, a lot of my friends didn't have anything," Shuler said. "It's great to give back to know that people don't have things. They got that smile today, though."

Those smiles were the greatest gifts of all on Wednesday.

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