HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- It's almost as routine as eating and sleeping, it seems: Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato finds receiver Tommy Shuler, a boyhood friend and high school teammate.
They have hooked up for almost all of Shuler's 198 career receptions, which included a school-record 110 last season.
But Cato spreads the wealth over the course of a season, and has found "Z" receiver Craig Wilkins 24 times. And safety A.J. Leggett has tangled with both Shuler and Wilkins in practice. Ditto defensive back Keith Baxter, who is sitting out with an injury this year.
As Marshall prepares for its first Conference USA game against Florida International, consider this: All those Miami-Dade County natives could have been playing for the host Panthers at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Would that have flipped the balance of power in the reconstituted East Division? Or at least kept FIU respectable? Or saved coach Mario Cristobal from one of college football's strangest firings after last year?
No one will ever know, but the college football world came close to finding out. Cato had declared his FIU commitment as "solid" long into the recruiting process.
"Real close. I was committed there my whole senior year," Cato said Monday. "I committed before my senior year even started. I just stuck with it at the end, Tommy and coach [Doc] Holliday [won] me over."
As is well documented, Cato and Shuler played together at Miami Central, with Cato throwing for 9,412 yards and 103 touchdowns in his career. Shuler gained more than 3,000 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns.
Shuler was recruited by Cincinnati and FIU, among others, but cast his lot early with the Thundering Herd. He was impressed during visits with Holliday, long known for his presence in south Florida, and hard-working recruiter JaJuan Seider.
Then Shuler turned his attention to recruit teammate Cato and his other Miami-Dade rivals. Finally, Cato switched gears and joined Holliday's first recruiting class, that of 2011.
"I had to beg him," Shuler recalls. "He was my best friend, I had to beg him to come to college with me. That was crazy. But it was a good experience. He weighed out his options, but he felt like he had more people here he knew."