Jacory Harris knows Rakeem Cato.
It’s not just that the Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback comes from the same tough part of Miami as his Alouettes counterpart. It’s not just that the two shared a coach who taught them to be confident and accurate and knowledgable about the game. And it’s not just that both were stars in college and are now trying to make it at the pro level.
It’s all of those things together.
“We went through so much in our lives and that football is a game that we love, ” Harris said Sunday. “He says it all the time and so do I: ‘Football is the easy part.'”
Both Harris and Cato hail from the Liberty City section of Miami, an area known for its gangs and drug-related violence. Since last Thursday, a teenage boy has been shot, a grandmother has been wounded when 60 bullets were fired into her house from a car outside, and a popular pastor has been killed in broad daylight in a botched robbery attempt. Since Thursday.
Harris figures he moved 10 times before he was eight-years-old, as his parents desperately tried to escape the violence, staying with relatives or living in rundown apartments. The family finally made their way to Miami Garden, where Harris enjoyed a stable upbringing while winning two state titles at Miami Northwestern. His mother is now a teacher, his father a city councillor.
Cato’s path was different. His mother died of pneumonia when he was 13. His father spent the first 20 years of his son’s life in prison. He relied on his extended family and the support of friends, teammates and coaches to help keep him on the right path.
“You learn so much from growing up in a place like that. Cato kept his head straight, persevered through everything and made it out, ” Harris said. “You can see it in him.”
Though Harris is two years older, both played for quarterbacks coach Christopher Perkins, who was with Harris for three seasons before joining Miami Central and Cato. Harris says Perkins continued to work with both in college, honing their technique and approach.
“They way he taught us, we learned the offence inside and out and we knew everything from hot reads to line protections to routes, ” Harris said. “He’s going to make good decisions, get the ball out of his hands. He won’t try and make all the plays himself.”
Defensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer says the strategy against young quarterbacks often entails trying to mix up defensive coverages, but that Montreal’s commitment to the run game makes that strategy difficult going into Thursday’s match up.
“Maybe if they were going to let him sit back in the pocket and ask him to read the defence, could confuse him, ” he said. “But I don’t think that’s going to be their plan.”
Cato has also looked remarkably poised for a young quarterback who began the season at No. 4 on the depth chart and is only getting an opportunity after injuries felled both Jonathon Crompton and former Ticat Dan LeFevour.
“When you’ve been released and are coming off the couch, what do you have to lose?” Steinauer said. “Competitors don’t play scared. I don’t think he’s easily rattled.”
To prepare the Ticats’ defence to face Cato, the coaching staff has turned to someone who knows him well, who plays a similar style and who knows, most of all, how he thinks and where he comes from. At practice this week, Jacory Harris is playing the role of Rakeem Cato on the scout team.
“I want him to do well. Not get the W against us, but continue to grow and learn in this game, ” Harris said. “But for now, I am Rakeem Cato.”