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June 4, 2019

Camp Notebook | Castillo ‘Marches’ On With Lions

Have just one short conversation with him and you will quickly come to the conclusion that Sergio Castillo is somewhat of a savvy individual. Case in point: when the kicker’s phone stopped ringing following 2018 training camp with the Ottawa Redblacks, he figured it was a good time to transition into his retirement project in Amarillo, Texas.

“My girlfriend, her brother and I opened a gym on the north side of town,” begins Castillo on this sizzling hot day in Kamloops.

Along with making a living, it was mainly designed to give back to his ‘Raza’ that did so much for him growing up.

“La Raza is our people. We try to help each other out as much as we can,” says the proud Mexican-American.

“That’s why we created this gym. It’s called ‘Fit Factory.’┬á When I’m there, it’s pretty much 24/7. We clean, do the workouts, everything.”

Giving back to his community? Simply a part of his DNA. But just like most competitive individuals, Castillo’s itch to strap them on was never fully scratched. This past spring, he landed in camp with the San Antonio Commanders of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football (AAF). Perhaps he caught a break by getting released before it all went south.

As the Lions continue to try and replace the production Ty Long brought the past two seasons, Castillo was brought in for the second week of practice in Kamloops to work with fellow kicker Anthony Alix. So far, he has not missed a beat.

“It’s very nice; feels like I’m in God’s country,” he said.

“More than anything, I’m just trying to enjoy it. You never know how many chances you are going to get. Just being able to put the cleats on, be able to kick and be out here with the guys and enjoy the little things is why I love to do it.”

His football backstory is amazing in itself. His number one love at La Joya High School was music where he excelled on the drum line. One day, he approached the football coach with a rather unprecedented proposition.

“I made a deal with him that if I could march in the band, I would kick footballs for them as well,” recalls Castillo.

“If I couldn’t do that, I wouldn’t play. That’s how it all got started. It was a big school with around six or seven-thousand kids. Every game, I would take my pads off at halftime and then go march. Since I was young, I was able to handle different duties. In Texas, football and band were both big. Getting to do that and also kick in front of thousands of people? What more could you ask for?”

The man of many talents quickly learned football would be his professional calling. Castillo attended West Texas A&M where he majored in History and left campus third in all-time points scored for the football program. Six years after leaving the university ranks, he marches into Lions camp with 20 games of CFL experience under his belt. Even the most casual of Lions fans may recognize the name simply because his two biggest kicks came at BC Place as a member of the visitors. First was a game-winner for the Blue Bombers (in his CFL debut) with no time left on the clock in 2015 and another under those exact same circumstances with the Tiger-Cats in 2017, one that put a serious dent in the Lions’ playoff hopes that year.

It was former Lions’ special teams coach Jeff Reinebold that first opened his eyes to the Canadian game by inviting him to Tiger-Cats training camp in 2014. It was in Steel Town where Castillo was fortunate to learn from one of the best in the league in Justin Medlock.

“I went to the Medlock school of kicking,” Castillo says.

“I didn’t play at first, but those were probably the best nine weeks to learn how to be a pro. Kicking, I could do that. Learning how to act like a pro, how to take command and carry yourself on the punt and field goal teams, on and off the field, that was crucial for me. He was great.”

Ironically, Medlock would take his place as Winnipeg’s placekicker for 2016. Castillo would appear in two games for Ottawa that season before winding up back with the Tiger-Cats in 2017.

And now it’s in BC where he has the pleasure of providing some mentorship to a few of the younger guys in camp, specifically Mexican receivers Gerardo Alvarez and Fernando Richarte.

“It’s been fun because we obviously understand each other and they’re both just hungry to learn and hungry to get on the field, ” says Castillo.

“Geraldo has been on in field goal reps and there is always a few things we can fix but for a newcomer, I think he’s been great.”

Indeed, it’s all about helping out La Raza.

Matt Baker: mbaker@bclions.com