1997 All-Met Defensive Player of the Year. 2007 Super Bowl Champion. High School Football Coach? Former NFL linebacker Cato June enters his third season as the Head Coach of the Varsity Football team at Anacostia High School, his alma mater. Coach took over a program that has long been removed from their glory days, their most recent success being when he was a student. June is proud of his school and is determined to get the program back at the level it was at in his heyday. He understands that it is a process, and that no one man or player is bigger than the program. We here at My Mind on Sports had the opportunity to sit in on yesterday’s practice, it was a joy!
Anacostia went 2-9 last season, in a large part to their high propensity for turing the ball over. Most 2-9 teams don’t have All-Mets on either side of the ball, let alone two on the offensive side in quarterback Rashard Shackleford and tight end David Richardson. The down year doesn’t seem to faze the members of the 2014 team. The team morale was high as they started to prepare for Friday’s game against Eastern. From start to finish, the practice had a very “pro” feel to it. There weren’t any wasted moments, all business all the time.
It starts with the staff, Coach June has assembled a staff full of “football players”, men that have had success at various levels of the game. June spoke about submerging the players in “football” language, teaching them the type of verbage that will be used on the collegiate level. They learn far more than just the verbage as the players were put through pro-style drills, both in team periods and individual periods. One of the first drills that stood out involved both the offense and defense starting in their respective huddles before heading to the line of scrimmage. The offense would give different looks and the defense would be responsible for lining up correctly, the goal being that the defense communicated each and every assignment and adjustment before the offense snapped the ball.
The individual drill period really stood out, especially the running backs. There was a blitz-pickup drill, a wonderful drill that taught the backs the right leverage and angles to use in pass protection. This is a pivotal part of their job description in this offense, Anacostia has been known to really throw the ball the past few years. Senior running back Eli Costello did a great job in the drill, displaying good feet as he kept the rusher from getting to the bag (QB). Those backs must stay in and protect their quarterback’s at times, there are backs in college that don’t get a lot of work in that area. These kids are getting an opportunity to work on their part of the game now, in high school. Fundamental football was stressed in every position group.
Coach June played safety in college and linebacker on sundays. He definitely put the backers through their paces, the most intriguing drill for that position group came in pass defense. In most zone defenses, only the middle linebacker is asked to drop into a deep zone. Anacostia did this drill their way, all three line backers lined up and practice dropping into their zones. The key was to stay on a string and react to Coach June who mimicked an opposing QB going through their reads.
Towards the end of practice, the offense had a chance to go at the defense. It was worth the wait, as each unit had to work to win against the other. QB Joe Moore had several plays in which he was able to take shots downfield against the defense, connecting on several of the attempts. It wasn’t all offense as the feisty Anacostia defense flashed their talent on that side of the ball as well. Talib Kingwood showed both his range and physicality on several plays in the period, one being a big hit on a receiver running a shallow route. One of the bonuses of this period was having former Anacostia players Dwayne Lorick (class of 2008) and Emani Lee-Odal (class of 2006) line up at receiver and work against the young defensive backs. Lorick went on to play at Utah State and Fayetville while Lee-Odal played for Coach Friedgen at Maryland. Both of which talked about how they felt compelled to “give back” and how they would have loved to have this type of coaching staff when they were that age. Going against savvy route-runners can’t do anything but help the kids, they shouldn’t be seeing that type of receiver on this level.
From the top to the bottom, Anacostia Varsity football has a very pro-style feel to it. From the schemes to the execution, the young men are getting prepared for the next level. Coach June and his staff left a lasting impression on us, if these philosophies continue to be practiced in this program it’s only a matter of time before Anacostia gets back to the level of play in the late 90’s. Similar to those days, June will have played an important role.