All Cato June has ever done is win.
Whether as a championship winning D.C. high school football and track athlete or as a Super Bowl champion with the Indianapolis Colts success has always followed him, so as Howard University gets set to open its season at the University of Maryland Sept. 3, Bison fans say they hope that June’s Midas touch will continue as the second act of his football life continues on the hilltop.
Cato June is Howard University’s new running backs coach.
The ironies are many for June as he takes the sidelines for the first time as a college coach. As a former all B1G conference player at the University of Michigan, June will look across to the Maryland sidelines to see his alma mater’s former offensive coordinator – D.J. Durkin – making his debut as the Terps head coach. This is a big stage for the Howard program because they are playing a nationally televised game on the B1G Network at a power five conference school. But if there’s one person who won’t be overwhelmed it will be June, who routinely played before crowds in excess of 100,000 fans.
“Whether you’re playing in front of 200 people or 200,000, when the game starts you’re dialed into the game,” said June. “There is no greater rush than when you run out of the tunnel and on to the field, but once the ball is kicked off its 22 guys flying around having a good time.”
June is literally back in the old neighborhood as he begins his first year as the running backs coach of the Bison. For a program that needs an infusion of positive energy after a 1-10 season in 2015, they may have found it in the new running backs coach who grew up on the other side of McMillian Reservoir in northwest D.C. Although he was never recruited by Howard, while earning all-met honors at Anacostia High School, June and some of his teammates took advantage of the school’s facilities to perfect their skills while preparing for college life.
“We would sneak into Stadium and workout on the old turf since our stadium was dirt and rocks,” said June. “It wasn’t the best place to train but it was better than what we played on so I spent a lot of time in stadium working on our skills so we could get better.”
June was anything but a privileged star athlete pampered on his way to a successful NFL career. He was part of the nation’s top recruiting class at Michigan one year after they won the national championship in 1997. Despite being given the number two jersey worn by Heisman Trophy winner and ultimate Pro Football Hall of Famer Charles Woodson, June didn’t start until late in his redshirt freshman season.
After an injury plagued his college career, June wasn’t drafted until the sixth round in the 2003 draft. He worked his way from special teams to starting linebacker in Indianapolis and started for the team that beat the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. Now instead of trying to stop running backs he is charged with the task of helping Howard’s group get better.
“Running backs and linebackers have a lot in common,” said June. “Typically, they are guys who are very knowledgeable and very physical. A lot of things about running backs and playing linebacker that just come naturally. You can’t teach vision or instincts. Those guys are one and the same in a sense and just doing it from different vantage points.”
The running backs are the strength of Howard’s offense and June said he hopes to make them better one play at a time.