A fire alarm ringing inside Anacostia High School marked the end of the Indians’ first practice of fall camp on Thursday. And it put Cato June, the team’s head coach and the school’s athletic director, on alert. He yelled to his coaches to check it out while he watched each of his kids leave the field on a muggy evening.
June’s duties at the Southeast school transcend the boundaries of just teaching football. He is just four years removed from a decorated career in the NFL, where he starred for the Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers during an eight year-run - but he is still learning how the balance between being a coach and a caretaker, an athletic administrator and a high-protector for his alma mater.
“I’m happy. I’m happy I can be back and make a difference,” June said. “High school coaching in the inner city is not just football. I’m happy that I can still be involved. I think a lot of times, the biggest issue with guys fresh outta the league they haven’t found something to do. I think for me it’s therapeutic, because I’m still able to be around and get excited about a Friday night, get excited for the season again. You know, I’m in there watching film. I’m teaching.”
In his first season, June proved to be one of the area’s bright young coaches. He revived a program that was crippled with low participation numbers and turned it into one of the city’s most competitive teams, and the Indians nearly upset Dunbar in the Turkey Bowl. To even make it that far into the postseason was something of a marvel for the school. In 2011, the Indians went 0-8. They were shutout four times, outscored 202-24 and painfully forfeited their last game against H.D. Woodson.
In 2012, there were still challenges in rebuilding – but June made it clear from the onset that his team wasn’t going to be intimidated, and the Indians in turn won six games and pulled off some impressive wins – including a 22-20 victory over Wilson early in the season.
June will have to replace his starting quarterback DeQuan Turner, who threw for 2,109 yards and 24 touchdowns, and scored another seven on the ground. June’s roster will add a little more meat throughout this month, but the players who were with him on Thursday – about 20 – are fiercely loyal to June and what he is trying to accomplish. They listen to his every word during practice, and there is little goofing off. They are the players who were here when June stressed his academic expectations last year, and the ones who have been lifting and practicing since Thanksgiving last year.
June believes he has a couple good ones, including running back Laquan Barber, who was one of the team’s most versatile players in 2012 (384 yards rushing, one touchdown; 488 yards receiving, six scores). Another is 6-foot-5, 230-pound senior tight end and defensive end David Richardson, who was needed on the offensive line last year and didn’t have an opportunity to showcase his talent catching the ball, June said.
Another young player, sophomore corner Xavier Harkum, is a special talent for Anacostia and picked up valuable experience as a freshman. His blend of speed and closing ability stood out in practice during 7-on-7 drills Thursday, and at 5-foot-7, he has added two inches since last season.
June believes the only way he can fully rebuild the program is by developing a core of 10 to 15 freshman and sophomores this season and the next, and he plans on doing it with a young, football savvy coaching staff. Walter Cross, the 1997 All-Met Offensive Player of the Year out of Oxon Hill (June was the All-Met Defensive Player of the Year that same season), and a former teammate of June at Michigan, serves as the team’s offensive coordinator; and other assistants, such as defensive backs coach Lamont Reid (former N.C. State star and NFL corner) and young assistants Ryan Flanagan (former James Madison offensive lineman) and Raymond Hemsley (Bowie State) give June and the staff the ability to connect with kids and are living proof of successful high school and college careers.
“The biggest thing I did, that I wanted to do, was bring on knowledgeable staff and guys that knew the game, that played the game, so that the kids could relate to them,” June said. “The big thing for us is teaching. We want to teach them, so they understand the game of football and the way its supposed to be played.”
More Camp Countdown installments:
Wednesday: Lake Braddock
Thursday: Briar Woods