HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When Marshall University quarterback Rakeem Cato came to Huntington in the fall of 2011, he immediately spoke of what his goals were for his time with the Thundering Herd.
Cato said he wanted to make an immediate impact and he wanted to be remembered like Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich for taking the Herd program to great heights.
After a 2013 season in which he led Marshall to its first 10-win season since 2002, Cato earned a distinction shared by those great Herd quarterbacks that he is aspiring to be.
Cato is the recipient of the 2013 Hardman Award, given to West Virginia's top amateur athlete of the year from voting by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association. The 80-year-old award dates back to 1934 and is the oldest given by the 82-year-old WVSWA.
Cato will be honored at the 68th annual Victory Awards Dinner on May 4 at the Charleston Civic Center.
He won the award over several other high-caliber athletes.
The runner-up was West Virginia University baseball pitcher Harrison Musgrave, followed by North Carolina wide receiver-punt returner Ryan Switzer, West Liberty basketball standout Alex Falk and WVU soccer star Frances Silva.
"It's a great feeling and I'm humbled and blessed," Cato said. "I treat this as my second hometown here in West Virginia and the community has been great to me. I just want to continue my success and continue trying to do a great job on and off the field."
With the award, Cato grows one step closer to the level that he wants to attain as a Marshall quarterback - being mentioned in the same sentence of Pennington and Leftwich as Marshall greats.
Pennington won the Hardman Award in 1999, and Leftwich backed it up by winning the award in 2001 and 2002.
Cato became the first Marshall football player since Leftwich to win the award, drawing him closer to etching his name on that list.
If you ask Leftwich, he'll say that Cato's already there.
"He belongs on the list, I'll tell you that," Leftwich said. "The way he's going, he's trying to take everybody off the list."
Cato finished the 2013 season with 3,916 yards passing and 39 touchdowns while also rushing for 294 yards and six scores.