The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY)

Road to NFL for Jets’ Castillo be­gan with one re­peated dream

- By Den­nis Waszak Jr. Sports · NFL Football · American Football · NFL · New York Jets · New York City · Kansas · Kansas City · Kansas City Chiefs · Caceres · Buffalo · Texas · NCAA Division II · Atlanta Falcons · Atlanta · San Antonio · XFL · Alliance of American Football · British Columbia Lions · Guadalupe · La Joya, TX · Eduardo Vargas · Rio Grande · Matt Bryant · Gary Vaynerchuk · Tony Robbins · Brant Boyer

NEWYORK » Ser­gio Castillo had the same dream a few times ev­ery year since sixth grade.

The New York Jets kicker is on the field at a sta­dium when he looks into the stands and sees his mother and fu­ture girl­friend in the stands cheer­ing him on.

Castillo never told any­one about his re­peated vi­sions un­til he wrote two let­ters while fly­ing to Kansas City for his sec­ond NFL game to play the Chiefs on Nov. 1.

One was to his mother, Maria Guadalupe Cáceres, and the other to his fi­ancée, Adri­ana Cava­zos-Loya, who’s ex­pect­ing the cou­ple’s first child in Jan­uary.

“The thing is, my lady was also preg­nant in that dream,” Castillo said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “I was like, what are the chances of that? When I wrote to them, my sec­ond dream was com­ing true. The first one is the NFL and the sec­ond one is that dream and they were go­ing to watch me play in Kansas City. They were like, how come you never told us that? I told them I wanted to save it for a spe­cial mo­ment when it ac­tu­ally hap­pened.”

And, there he was — on his 30th birth­day, to boot — kick­ing three field goals as his dream played out in front of his mother and fi­ancée.

“It’s just crazy,” Castillo said, “how God works in His mys­teri---

ous ways.”

Castillo made his NFL de­but the week be­fore against Buf­falo, fill­ing in for the in­jured SamFicken. As he walked off the field af­ter his first kick, a 29yard field goal, he could barely con­trol his emo­tions.

“I teared up a bit be­cause I started rem­i­nisc­ing about the six years it took me to get here, you know?” Castillo said.

Castillo’s long, wind­ing NFL jour­ney be­gan in tiny La Joya, Texas, where he was raised by “my four strong women” — his mother, grand­mother and two aunts. The first- gen­er­a­tion Mex­i­can Amer­i­can went from the soc­cer and foot­ball fields in the Rio Grande Val­ley to Di­vi­sion II West Texas A& M, the only school to of­fer him a schol­ar­ship.

But, he nearly walked away.

“I had never been around white peo­ple,” he said. “I had never been around Black peo­ple. It was just a cul­ture shock. I guess it was the first time I faced a lit­tle bit of dis­crim­i­na­tion, racism. And I told my mom, I’m drop­ping out, I’m quit­ting.”

Castillo got a stern talk­ing-to from one of his child­hood coaches — and then from his mother.

“She was like, ‘ If you come home, you will not have a home,’” he re­called. “She said, ‘ You said you were go­ing to play ball. Now be a man and fin­ish what you said what you were go­ing to do.’”

Castillo, one of few Mex­i­canAmer­i­cans toplay in the NFL, has been work­ing on that ever since.

“When I signed that let­ter of in­tent to play foot­ball in col­lege, I was not just sign­ing for me,” he said. “Yes, I’m liv­ing my dream, but I wanted to pave the way for the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, the fu­ture Mex­i­can Amer­i­cans that want to pur­sue this dream. I couldn’t just quit then and there, you know?

“It re­mind­edme of why I was do­ing it.”

He went un­drafted in 2014 out ofWest Tex­asA&M, but got a look from the Atlanta Fal­cons— who al­ready had Matt Bryant. Un­able to beat out the vet­eran, Castillo was cut dur­ing train­ing camp. So, he headed to San An­to­nio at the urg­ing of a former coach and worked at South­sideHigh School as a teacher’s aide and as­sis­tant coach.

He took the same bus to work ev­ery day: the No. 522 route that picked himup at 4:22 a.m. at the corner of Bab­cock and Wurzbach for the 1-hour, 24-minute com­mute. It was dur­ing those rides that his driver — Mr. Ful­ton— en­cour­aged himto set up a “vi­sion board” to fo­cus his goals.

Castillo’s vi­sion board in­cludes a pic­ture of a cross in the mid­dle. In the four cor­ners are: a pic­ture of two wed­ding rings and a car­toon with sev­eral peo­ple at a table that he ti­tled “Castillo Fam­i­lyRe­u­nion” to rep­re­sent the fam­ily he hopes to have; a pic­ture of him­self andBryant; the­words “Prin­ci­pal Castillo” for his post­foot­ball as­pi­ra­tions; and in­spi­ra­tional quotes from the likes of Eric Thomas, Gary Vayn­er­chuk, LesBrow­nand Tony Rob­bins.

“Ev­ery day when I woke up and the last thing I saw be­fore Iwent to bed­was that vi­sion board,” Castillo said. “It re­minded me of where I was go­ing to go so I kept feed­ing my mind.”

He used it for mo­ti­va­tion through­out his var­i­ous stops in the CFL, XFL and Al­liance of Amer­i­can Foot­ball. He needed it all eight times he was cut. Castillo used it again while re­cov­er­ing from a torn ACL in 2017 that nearly de­railed his ca­reer.

hen the CFL can­celed its season in­Au­gust be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pandemic, Castillo was faced with a tough de­ci­sion: stick with his con­tract with the BC Lions with some salary and health ben­e­fits, or opt out and try to pur­sue the NFL again.

Castil­lowas cer­tain his fi­ancée would tell himto stay put, es­pe­cially with a baby on the­way. In­stead, Cava­zosLoya sur­prised him.

“She said: ‘You’re go­ing to chase this dream,’” Castillo re­called. “‘When I met you 4 ½ years ago, you said you were go­ing tomake it to the NFL. This is your chance.’

“That gave me the whole con­fi­dence in the world to pur­sue this.”

Castillo worked out for the Jets ear­lier this season and his abil­ity to kick field goals and punt im­pressed spe­cial teams co­or­di­na­tor Brant Boyer. Signed to the prac­tice squad in­Oc­to­ber, Castillo was pro­moted to the ac­tive ros­ter 10 days later when Ficken in­jured his groin. He went 6 for 7 on field goals — with the only miss a block — and 4 for 4 on ex­tra points in three games.

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