IRVING, Texas - Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and running back Kevin Grooms were named Conference USA's Most Valuable Player and Freshman of the Year, respectively, on Wednesday, following a vote of the league's 12 head football coaches.
The two become the first Herd student-athletes to capture the awards since the school joined Conference USA in 2005.
Cato was named the All-Conference USA first team QB a day earlier, while Grooms was one of four Herd players on the league's All-Freshman squad.
Cato, the first underclassman to win the league's top award, leads the FBS in completions/game (33.83) and passing yards/game (350.08) and is third in TD passes (37), fifth in total offense/game (352.67) and completion percentage (69.5). He also leads C-USA in pass efficiency (147.1). He led a Herd unit that is second in the nation in third-down conversion percentage (54.59) and first downs per game (29.42) and his 66.2% career completion mark (588-of-888) is currently a school record, just ahead of Herd legends Chad Pennington (65.1) and Byron Leftwich (63.4). Earlier this season, he was named to the Manning Award Watch List (nation's top collegiate quarterback).
The Miami native becomes the first Marshall offensive player to win a top conference award since Leftwich was named the Mid-American Conference's Offensive Player of the Year in 2002.
Grooms leads all C-USA freshmen with 67.0 rushing yards per game with eight rushing touchdowns and another through the air. His 737 rushing yards is the fourth-highest total all-time among Marshall freshmen. His breakout game came against Rice, when he posted 103 rushing yards with three touchdowns to go with a 5-yard touchdown catch. He also tallied 155 rushing yards and a touchdown against Houston on 21 carries. In addition, he served on MU's special teams, registering three tackles and returning 10 kicks.
The Hollywood, Fla., native is the first conference football Freshman of the Year for the Herd since 1996, when wide receiver Randy Moss won the honor from the Southern Conference media (the SoCon had separate coaches' and media voting panels starting in 1989). Quarterback Chad Pennington won both awards as a 1995 Marshall freshman.
Other Herd players to win either the coaches or media Freshman of the Year honor in the SoCon were running back Ron Lear (1979), kicker Barry Childers (1980), running back Ron Darby (1986), kicker Dewey Klein (1988), defensive back Roger Johnson (1991) and defensive back Alandus Sims (1992).
Marshall did not have a Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year in the Herd's time in the league (1997-2004) before moving to C-USA.
Cato also the second Marshall student-athlete this fall to win his sport's top honor. Senior goalkeeper Daniel Withrow was named co-Conference USA Men's Soccer Player of the Year last month.