CFL Pass

Kicker Sergio Castillo grateful for lessons learned in Canadian Football League

Four games into a stint with the New York Jets, as Sergio Castillo balances the realization of a lifelong dream against the nightmare of a winless season, he also takes time to show gratitude.

To his agent Gil Scott, who got Castillo looks in Pittsburgh and Cleveland before he stuck with the Jets. To veteran Canadian Football League kicker Justin Medlock, for the lessons in professionalism. And to B.C. Lions teammate Fernando Richarte, for the joyful banter in Spanish all through the 2019 CFL season.

“I entered the CFL as a young boy and I left as a pro,” Castillo said Monday from his apartment in New York. “That’s the way I see it. The CFL helped me mature mentally, because physically and technically I feel I have always been able to kick. But the mental aspect of how to be like a pro is where I had some maturing to do.”

The 30-year-old Mexican-American native of La Joya, Texas chased the NFL dream for six years, time spent mostly in the CFL, with brief side trips to the XFL and the Alliance of American Football. He played four games with Winnipeg in 2015, moved through Ottawa and Hamilton, missed the entire 2018 season after suffering a torn ACL late in 2017, then blossomed into a West Division all-star with B.C., playing all 18 games in 2019.

He’s a career 87 per cent field goal kicker, with a 57-yarder to his credit, and has a lifetime 44.4-yard punting average.

He went out of his way to thank Medlock for leading by example with Winnipeg during much of the 2016 season.

“For the nine weeks I was behind him I got to see what it is to be a pro athlete, how to conduct your practices, what to attack,” said Castillo. “You don’t just kick to kick. There are all these little things that you work on and I got to see how he conducted himself on and off the field and that was honestly a big lesson for me. As much as I wanted to play, I’m very grateful for the nine weeks I was behind him.”

They had already spent time on the same roster in Hamilton the year before, but their relationship wasn’t well defined and they didn’t see eye to eye.

“We butted heads a little bit,” said Castillo. “I was the new kid on the block, trying to get a job, and we just did not connect. But when he got to Winnipeg, with me behind him, we bonded well, and to this day he’s one of my mentors.”

When the CFL went dark on Aug. 17, Castillo had two options. He had signed a two-year deal with B.C. in April, at about $90,000 per year, and would have been able to access some federal funding. He and fiancée Adriana Cavazos-Loya are expecting a baby in January, and the security of guaranteed income was a consideration.

“I honestly thought she was going to say, ‘hey let’s stay in the contract because it’s not about us anymore.’ That’s what I was leaning towards too.”

Instead, they bet on him realizing his dream, and it paid off. He’s playing for a pro-rated portion of a $610,000 US contract with the Jets. It would be even more rewarding if they were a winning team.

“You always want to do well with a team, so it’s a challenge. The competitor inside of you wants to find a way to get better.”

He moved from the Jets’ practice squad to the active roster when Sam Ficken couldn’t kick because of a groin injury. In four games, Castillo has been good on seven of nine field goal attempts, with one block. He missed a short kick Sunday in the Jets’ loss to Miami, and is keenly aware that a struggling team is always looking to make changes.

“Think about it, between the CFL and NFL there are only 41 teams and 41 jobs in the whole world. I know there are a lot of guys out there, because I have been in that situation, where they are just waiting at home for a call and they’re hungry.

“For me, I was never secure, it was always how can I improve? I got to keep that hunger because I know how much it sucks waiting at home for a call. I never took the game for granted. I know there are a lot of great guys out there who don’t have a job and they want my job. So every week you have to come with that mentality, you have to work for what you want.”