For those who have played and coached with Cato, that is a really long time ago.
"The thing I like about Cato is he's matured as a person," Hoskins said. "It just shows all the hard work he puts in. He comes to practice ready to work; he's in the film room studying."
On his way to topping Chad Pennington's former record of 26 games, neatly covering all of the 1997 and 1998 seasons, Cato has thrown 81 touchdowns, some more interesting and memorable than others.
The closest the streak came to ending came this season in the Herd's 24-23 win over Florida Atlantic. As the clock ticked under the 7-minute mark, the Herd was in deep trouble, down 23-14 and facing fourth-and-5 at the FAU 41.
In the play that might have saved MU it's East Division title, Cato found Hoskins over the middle, and the tight end wriggled away from a defender for a monumental touchdown.
Cato and Hoskins have hooked up 24 times during the streak, 15 times from the "red zone" area from the 20-yard line and inside. Four of those have come on third-and-goal, five coming on any down from the 1-yard line.
As Hoskins approaches the No. 2 spot on the all-time list — he has 26 to Mike Barber's 27 — he marvels over the chemistry the two have developed in the three years. Hoskins' TD totals have grown from zero as a freshman to three, 10 and 13 this season.
"Doc came to us and said, 'Seniors play their best football in their senior year,'" Hoskins said. "I talked to Cato a lot over the summer, came in, ran a lot of routes. He just told me, 'I'm coming to you a lot this year.'"
As one would expect, Tommy Shuler is a common target with 15 TD catches during the streak. Wilson caught nine touchdowns in Cato's first 18 games of the streak, with Dobson catching eight.
Four times during the streak, Cato has thrown five TDs, with three games of four and seven with three. In two other games this year, he went into the second half to get his only TD of the game — Gardner-Webb and Ohio, the latter coming with 10:24 left in the game.
That owes a bit to the run-pass balance the Herd has cultivated. In 2012, Cato's 37 touchdowns were part of 39 team passing TDs vs. 24 on the ground; this year the split is 39 passing (36 from Cato) to 33 rushing.
A funny thing has happened, though: Perhaps owing to a more effective play-action, Cato has thrown 16 TD passes of 20 or more yards, compared to nine in 2012. Three of his four longest shots (54, 52, 44) have gone to Devon "Moo Moo" Smith, the small but speedy man who has emerged as Dobson's replacement at "X" receiver.
By Bill Legg's reckoning, Cato has better used the running game to become a little deadlier when he throws it downfield. And that's the part of Cato's game everybody raves about these days.
"That young man has matured into a real fine young man," said Legg, MU's offensive coordinator. "I'm not saying he's all the way there — heck, I'm 51 and I'm not all the way there. But as long as he keeps that mindset of tying to improve, not just as a football player but as an individual, on a daily basis ... He's already become pretty special. He has a chance to be very special."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.