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.
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.
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.