HUNTINGTON - Unseen to most observers, quarterbacks and their receivers run thousands of pass plays in the summer sun, trying to get some semblance of timing down.
When the team formally convenes for preseason camp, the search for that precious timing between thrower and catcher intensifies. It can be one of the most elusive aspects of the entire sport.
"It's something that's a learned deal," said Gerad Parker, receivers coach at Marshall. "It's definitely something that's not a one-week deal and everybody's got timing and knows where everybody's going to be; it's a learned deal and that's why the dog days of camp help."
And then there is the combination of true freshmen Rakeem Cato to Tommy Shuler, honed for more than a decade on the streets of Miami and brought 1,000 miles north to Huntington. Rarely does a day go by in the Thundering Herd's practice when the two don't hook up for a touchdown, at least in seven-on-seven drills.
It happened again in Thursday's early-morning practice, and it looked easy. On their own merits, they are pushing the starters to fight for their jobs - the 6-foot-1, 181-pound Cato is a half-notch behind A.J. Graham, if that much, while Shuler is helping to crowd the receivers' depth chart.
Together, defensive backs are hard-pressed to stop them.
"Everything he does, he tells me; we've got a signal for it," Cato said. "From little league on up, he gives me a signal, gives me a head shake on what he's doing, and I catch on."
It's a rare situation at the college level, something probably never seen at Marshall. The only disconnect they seem to have is how long they've played catch.
"We go way back, since 7 years old," Cato said. "He's the brother figure, very loyal."
The "brother figure" begs to differ, slightly.
"We've been together since 5 years old," Shuler said. "We call each other brothers. Everything he does and I do, we just know each other. Great brothers."
They took their act to Miami Central High, where they connected to win the school's first state title in the big-school, talent-loaded Class 6A. The Rockets rallied from a 17-0 deficit to down Orlando's Dr. Phillips 42-27, as Florida State recruit Devonta Freeman rushed for 308 yards.
Cato went 17-of-25 for 196 yards and Shuler caught four for an ordinary 48, but they hooked up on the go-ahead play, a quick screen pass for a 13-yard score.
"All game they'd been doubling him, so we got him outside and caught them sleeping one play, and it was all man-to-man," Cato said. "Coach checked the play off to a screen, and we just got the job done. Our offensive lineman, Marquis Lewis [a West Virginia recruit], led him in."
At that point, Shuler already had committed to Marshall and coach Doc Holliday. Cato was leaning toward staying close to home.
"[Florida International] was on him hard; he was thinking about FIU," Shuler said. "But I kept pushing it in his head, he finally came around and said he wanted to take my advice and come."
As one could imagine, they know each other's strengths, and downplay any weaknesses.
"Since we were small, he knew schemes, he knew blocking," Shuler said of Cato. "Before he could even throw the ball, he knew that. So that helped him out a lot. Now he's got all the mechanics down. He's great."
Cato on the 5-9, 185-pound Shuler: "He plays like a big receiver, he catches every ball, he runs perfect routes. He's very consistent on his routes and his hands. If you see him drop the ball, you're going to be amazed he dropped it."
Parker likely is surprised when any Cato-to-Shuler ball hits the ground. Cato has misfired at times and Shuler has dropped a few, but ...
"You can tell those guys have worked together, for sure," Parker said. "They've got a good chemistry with each other, and that's something you hope the quarterbacks try to develop with all or guys.
"But you can tell they just have it because they've been around each other for four or five years, growing up together. It's definitely something you see."