Saturday, July 4, 2015

Cato joins elite company with electrifying first start

Rakeem Cato is in some pretty elite company after an electrifying CFL debut on Friday night.
The 23-year-old completed 80 per cent of his passes (20-of-25 passing) and threw three touchdown passes, picking apart the defending Grey Cup Champions to lead the Alouettes to their first win of 2015.
Consider the situation and it’s even more impressive: Cato didn’t even suit up in Week 1. The Alouettes passer hadn’t even attempted a single regular season pass before Friday’s matchup against one of the CFL’s perennially top-ranked defences.
The last 16 CFL debut starters have gone 10-6, but overall, first-time starters are 37-70-1 since 1995. The upward trend could be explained by teams being patient with their backups and letting them learn and develop before their first career starts, yet for Cato the opposite was the case.
When comparing Cato’s debut to those of Matt Dunigan and Ricky Ray, let’s just remember that the Als’ starter is as pure a rookie as it gets – and again, he’s only 23.
Here are some of the top debut starting performances that come to mind when we think of quarterbacks’ first CFL starts:
Matt Dunigan – June 30, 1984 vs. OTT
Like with Cato, the first start in Dunigan’s illustrious CFL career came at the age of 23. The strong-armed Edmonton Eskimo led his team back from deficits of 14-0 and 24-14 to score 18 fourth-quarter points on the way to a thrilling 32-31 victory. He finished the game with 14-of-33 for 254 yards and four touchdowns to go with three interceptions.
Brian Kelly hauled in all four, including a 65-yarder to move the Eskimos to 1-0 that season. The young Dunigan battled through pre-season to earn his starting job but proved in the opener he belonged, paving the way to a memorable CFL career.
Ricky Ray – July 26, 2002 vs. BC
Ray threw for 277 yards on 21-of-28 passing and threw for four touchdowns, tying the record for TD passes in a first career CFL start while out-dueling Damon Allen for the win. He didn’t throw any interceptions during a 37-27 win over the Lions and compiled a quarterback rating of 153.4.
Still active and among the CFL’s best, Ray went on to have an illustrious career with the Eskimos and Argos and is considered one of the most accurate passers in league history.
Bo Levi Mitchell – July 26, 2013 vs. WPG
Mitchell’s time in the spotlight didn’t really arrive until one year later, but his coming out party as a CFL quarterback was in July of 2013. Then only 23, Mitchell threw for 376 yards and three touchdown passes on 29-of-33 passing to lead Calgary to a 37-24 victory over Winnipeg.
The next year, Mitchell became a full-time starting CFL quarterback and won a Grey Cup, flirting with a record for Grey Cup completion percentage in a victory over the Ticats. He’s won 16 of his first 19 starts, giving him arguably the best start to a career in league history.
Zach Collaros – July 30, 2013 vs. BC
Much like the Alouettes on Friday night, the Argos were the underdog vs. powerhouse BC late in July, one week after Ricky Ray went down with a shoulder injury. Collaros, mostly unknown, shredded the Lions’ defence to the tune of a 38-12 victory. He threw for 253 yards on 21-of-25 passing with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Collaros looked like a magician that game and his career trajectory continues upward, as he’s already appeared in a Grey Cup Championship with the Ticats after just one season as a full-time starting quarterback. The sky is the limit for this guy.

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