CFL Rookie QB Rakeem Cato a social sensation

Since ESPN started televising Canadian Football League (CFL) games in 1980, there has always been a fascination with the CFL in the United States.

Cato gains a fan

Matt Dunigan, a longtime CFL on TSN analyst and member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, puts Rakeem Cato’s debut performance in perspective: “Cato looked like he belonged or didn’t know any better. He played fast, made quick, sound decisions and commanded the Alouettes’ offense like a seasoned veteran! I tried not to like this kid, as he beat my Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in the Conference USA championship game last year. But Cato smoothed over any ill feelings as he beat the blitz, spotted the ball exceptionally well, showed arm strength when needed, and a darting quickness that made me want to see more. One game does not make a career, but he’s off to a really enticing start!”

The league is fast-paced, often high scoring and a great place to watch former American college standouts.

This is especially true in 2015. Last week on ESPN2, fans witnessed a breakout performance – arguably one of the most impressive debuts in league history — by Montreal Alouettes rookie quarterback Rakeem Cato, a former standout at Marshall University.

In his first start, Cato led the Alouettes to a stunning 29-11 win over the defending Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders, completing 20-of-25 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns.

Fans in Canada and the United States clearly took notice. According to Twitter Canada, Cato’s name trended in both countries — and 65 different cities – during the ESPN2 telecast on Friday (and Saturday), reaching No. 1 among trending topics. The visual above demonstrates the social media impact throughout the game telecast, and the accompanying Heat Map shows the particularly high volume of tweets in Western Pennsylvania near Huntington, WVa., home of Marshall’s Thundering Herd.

Those rabid Marshall and Rakeem Cato fans better get their 140 characters ready because he returns to the field again tonight when the Alouettes face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on ESPN2 (7 p.m. ET).

A heat map of Rakeem Cato tweets in Canada and the United States during the Montreal Alouettes telecast on ESPN2 on July 3 (Credit: Twitter Canada)
A heat map of Rakeem Cato tweets in Canada and the United States during the Montreal Alouettes July 3 telecast on ESPN2.(Credit: Twitter Canada)

ESPN continues with a full schedule of 2015 CFL games through the 103rd Grey Cup in November.

Editor’s Note: For more on Rakeem Cato, senior writer Elizabeth Merril profiled the Marshall quarterback for ESPN.com in April and Tom Rinaldi filed a poignant story on him for ESPN’s College GameDay. Both are here.

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