- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2007

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — As Cato June was growing up in the District, primarily in the Brookland neighborhood of Northeast, his mother hoped he would attend Banneker, the city’s academic high school, or Wilson, the best general high school.

But June begged off Banneker because of its lack of athletics and Wilson never panned out. The summer before he began ninth grade, June enrolled in an Upward Bound program at Howard where Troy Stewart, son of Anacostia High football coach Willie Stewart, served as a counselor. The son called the father and the sales job began.

“The perception is that Anacostia isn’t some place you want to send your kid, but Coach Stew persuaded my mother,” said June, who took two Metro trains and a bus each way from home to school and now supports Stewart’s program with his money and his time. “He encourages all his kids to get out of Anacostia to go to college. It’s tough when you go back to visit and you see the kids going backwards.”

June did the opposite, becoming an All-American cornerback, co-class president and a member of the National Honor Society. He went on to play football for Michigan, where he started two years at safety and earned a degree in African-American studies. And tomorrow June, a sixth-round pick in the 2003 draft, will finish his fourth NFL season by starting at weakside linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts against the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

“You can spend your whole life with people telling you what you can’t do: ‘You can’t do anything coming out of that school, you’re not smart enough to go Michigan, you’re too small to be an NFL linebacker,’ ” June said. “If you worry about people telling you what you can’t do, you might start believing it.”

After a year on the scout team with fellow undersized linebacker Gary Brackett, June became a starter in 2004. At 6 feet and 215 pounds, June makes up for his lack of size with enough speed, smarts and enthusiasm to have been named to the Pro Bowl in 2005, the first Colts linebacker so honored in 18 years. This season, June was credited with 142 tackles, 22 more than any teammate, and his 19 tackles in the postseason are tied for the team lead.

“We were obviously worried about the size, [but] Cato had everything else,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “He had smarts, ball skills and striking ability. [Colts general manager Bill Polian] liked the punch and the pop that he had. And we still kind of joke about it now when I talk to those Michigan guys. They say: ‘Can you believe Cato June is playing linebacker in the NFL?’ ”

Despite his success, June said his transition still is incomplete.

“They used to mess with me at Michigan that I was too big to be a safety, that I should’ve been a linebacker,” June said. “I did play there in nickel situations, but never on run downs. I had to get used to being so close to the line of scrimmage because one false move will get you blocked. If the offensive lineman gets his hands on me, I can’t effectively get to where I’m going. I use my quickness to shake ‘em: float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. But I’m still trying to feel [totally] comfortable at linebacker.”

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