August 5, 2005

Chargers’ Castillo Living the American Dream

By John Philip Wyllie

Faced with difficult circumstances, people often wallow in self-pity and use their misfortune as an excuse for their own lack of achievement. Other people use that misfortune as a motivator and rise above it. San Diego Chargers first round draft pick, Luis Castillo, is a prime example of one of the latter.

“My mom grew up in a poor family in a little village in the Dominican Republic with no running water and no electricity. I never had a dad and never had the experience of having a father around, so I didn’t know what it was like to miss one. When I was first born we were living in somebody else’s apartment in the projects in Brooklyn,” Castillo said following Wednesday’s Chargers practice.

Finding life in the U.S. overwhelming, Maria Castillo and her son Luis returned to the Dominican Republic and lived there for about five years. Refusing however, to give up on the American dream, mother and son returned to the U.S. when Luis was about five. They lived for several years in the projects in Manhattan before eventually settling in Garfield, New Jersey.

“Growing up, my mom was pretty much working 16 or 17 hour days and I was left at home alone,” Castillo recalled. By the time he was 12, his mother’s relentless work ethic had transformed the family into what he described as “a good middle income family.” At about the same time, Castillo discovered football.

Inheriting his mother’s resolve and work ethic, Castillo threw himself into the task of becoming a football player. Castillo emerged from Garfield High School as an All-State football team MVP, as New Jersey’s top prep heavyweight wrestler and academically as a member of the National Honor Society. He also lettered in track. An equally impressive collegiate career made him one of the NFL draft’s most sought after defensive lineman.

Known at Northwestern University as a dominating, run-stuffing tackle and a powerful bull-rusher, Castillo is being used at least initially by the Chargers as a defensive end. Naturally, it is an adjustment.

“Honestly, it has been little tough. You get very different reads when you are playing on the inside. You get contact a lot quicker than you do as a defensive end, so your reads come a lot faster at tackle. On the outside you have to pay a little bit more attention and be a little more dedicated when it comes to the nuances of the game. Pass rushing from the outside is a lot more difficult than it is from the inside. You have to be able to turn and control your body in ways that makes (pass rushing) a lot tougher,” Castillo said.

The Chargers will need to improve their pass rush if they want to build upon last year’s 12-4 record and advance deeper into the NFL playoffs. Recognizing that need, the Chargers invested both of their first round draft picks into blue chip impact players, pass rushers that can make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.

Unlike previous seasons, the Chargers were able to avoid prolonged contract negotiations with Castillo and fellow first rounder, Shawne Merriman. Having them in camp is huge plus. Castillo couldn’t wait to sign his five-year $7.035 million contract and is excited to be starting his NFL career with the defending AFC West champion Chargers.

“(The Chargers) gave me a great opportunity (by overlooking his admitted one-time steroids use and making him a first round draft pick), so I wanted to be faithful to them. They put their trust in me and I wanted to do the same for them.”

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