Cato June, former NFL linebacker, returns to Anacostia High School with big plans
By James Wagner,
Cato June recently walked the hallways of Anacostia High in jeans and a black sweater. The tattoos that cover his muscular arms, rugged from a seven-year NFL career that included a Pro Bowl appearance and a Super Bowl ring, poked out slightly from under his sleeves.
He navigated a maze of construction, ramps and detours on the inside, scaffolding and equipment outside the Southeast school. June is in the midst of a rebuilding job of his own at his alma mater, starting with athletics. And in his mind, it begins with football. In December, June, already the school’s athletic administrator, was named the school’s new football coach, and he has a vision for both roles.
“I want to bring the level of Anacostia athletics back where I think they should be,” said June, the 1997 All-Met Defensive Player of the Year. “To me, it’s about changing the culture and changing the way kids think about sports. There’s the pride as a school.”
Some students look at June, 32, and have a hard time making sense of him. As he walked by a classroom recently, a student sized June up — when he was playing, he was listed at 6 feet and 225 pounds — and thought he was in his late 40s.
“It’s great being able to kind of start again where everything all started in a sense and being able to take things that I’ve learned in my career and affect change in a positive way,” June said. “It’s one thing to give money and give speeches, but it’s different to be part of the day-to-day operations.”
And because of that, June’s next stop on a recent morning was to the classroom where Willie Stewart, the school’s legendary former football coach, was filling in as a substitute teacher. June pestered him with questions about updating the school’s football helmet inventory. Then he was off to his makeshift office on the bottom floor of the school to import, upload and sort the film of a recent girls’ basketball game.
If there’s a model success story from the school, June may be it. After moving from Muskogee, Okla., following his freshman year to live with his mother in the District, June enrolled at Anacostia in 1995. By his senior year, he was the city’s best football player and a much sought-after recruit who also found time for baseball, basketball and track. He excelled off the field as well, posting a 3.8 grade-point average and earning a spot in the National Honor Society before graduating in 1998.
June went on to excel as a safety at Michigan and was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the sixth round of the 2003 NFL draft. He spent four seasons with the Colts, earning a Pro Bowl selection during the 2005 season and a Super Bowl title in 2007, and then two seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The rigors of playing in the NFL — he’s had six surgeries — caught up to June. He spent most of the 2009 season on injured reserve with the Houston Texans before joining the Chicago Bears for one game, his last in the league. His playing days ended in 2010 with the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League.
In 2011, Anacostia coach Terry Dixon, a 1995 All-Met lineman at the school, called June, asking for the second straight year if he wanted to come home to coach. By then, June felt like his playing career was over and was interested in coaching high school.
June accepted Dixon’s offer to be defensive coordinator and later was given the athletic administrator position by the school’s principal, Ian Roberts. After an 0-8 season this past fall, June replaced Dixon as head coach in December.
June quickly turned to Stewart, asking him to help coach the Indians next fall. He also named his close friend and Michigan roommate Walter Cross, the 1997 All-Met Offensive Player of the Year from Oxon Hill, as his offensive coordinator — the same position Cross held at Potomac (Md.) this fall.
“If your football program is dynamic and running the way it’s supposed to, it can fill your whole school,” June said. “You can bring money in from all sorts.”
Under Stewart, Anacostia won seven DCIAA title games. Paired with June, the Indians appeared in three DCIAA title games, winning one in 1995. But Anacostia hasn’t reached the title game since 1997. The Indians have won only five games in the past five seasons.
And because of D.C. Public Schools’ out-of-boundary policy that allows students to apply to change schools for any reason, promising athletes from Southeast are often lured away to more recently successful schools such as Coolidge, Dunbar and H.D. Woodson. But in a league so driven by individual coaches, June may be just what Anacostia needs, Stewart said. June has already hosted one notable visitor — Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, who recruited June during Locksley’s first stint as a Maryland assistant.
“We’ve always had good athletes that come out of the neighborhood,” Stewart said. “We just need to round all those guys up again. There are going to be some challenges because not all the kids in the school are crazy about athletics. . . . Once [June] starts flashing that Super Bowl ring and talks about his background and being in the pros, that’s going to inspire some kids to play football that didn’t want to come out.”
It has been a busy few months since June was named coach. While football preparations are underway, he has helped with athletic eligibility forms, manned the game clock at basketball games or filled in at the concession stand. And if his vision goes as planned, students will be clamoring to play for Anacostia’s teams.
“[I want it] where people want to come here, where there’s a want and we’re turning kids away, where kids want to be a part of something great,” he said. “. . . My goal is getting guys and girls to school for free.”