The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY)

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

- By Dennis Waszak Jr.

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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