HUNTINGTON - Coach Doc Holliday says it, quarterback Rakeem Cato says it, Cato's teammates say it: Cato will not let hometown connections get in his way tonight.
As Marshall takes on Central Florida at 8 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, there will be much familiarity. The Thundering Herd has 33 Floridians on its roster, many from the Miami area.
As was well chronicled last year, Cato transferred from Miami Springs to Miami Central to take over the starting quarterback job, vacated after Jeff Godfrey signed with UCF. Cato reunited with Tommy Shuler at Central, and both went to MU.
UCF's Central contingent, in addition to Godfrey, includes defensive linemen Miles Pace and Jose Jose, defensive back Jamar McClain and wide receiver Josh Reese.
Marshall's Jermaine Kelson is from Miami Southridge, as are UCF offensive linemen Jordan and Justin McCray. American Heritage of Delray Beach produced kicker Justin Haig of Marshall and offensive lineman Kelly Parfitt and tight end Blake Davis of UCF.
Outside of Florida, Marshall defensive lineman Malcolm Strong and UCF offensive lineman Tarik Cook hail from Stephenson High in Stone Mountain, Ga.
Cato's match with Godfrey turned into misery in the Orlando rain last year, with Cato getting benched after a sideline meltdown. But the individual rematch won't happen tonight, as Godfrey has moved to wide receiver.
"I'm very surprised," Cato said. "I don't know the situation about that, but he's doing a great job at wide receiver right now. He's just taking advantage of it right now, and he's moving forward."
There was a sense of relief in the UCF camp when the school was told its appeal of the NCAA's football postseason ban will not be heard until Jan. 24. With that, the Knights are fully eligible for the Conference USA championship.
But UCF coach George O'Leary and his players seemed to stay grounded amid all the uncertainty. Past practice suggested the hearing would take place after the football season, and O'Leary had told his team as much.
Center Jordan Rae commended O'Leary for his ability to keep outside distractions from tearing the team apart. O'Leary has had his share of off-field drama in his nine seasons in Orlando.