Journeyman kicker Castillo says it was no-brainer to come to Winnipeg, where ‘something special is going on’

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Sergio Castillo is used to making adjustments on the fly when it comes to his career as a professional football kicker.

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The 31-year-old from Texas has done his fair share of bouncing around, starting in the training camp of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons in 2014, playing with Winnipeg, Ottawa, Hamilton and B.C., over a five-year stint in the CFL, landing an NFL job with the New York Jets in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and finally re-joining the Blue Bombers for their stretch run in 2021.

Castillo practised with the Bombers on Tuesday at IG Field, as the 10-1 team returned from a bye week, after having his rights traded to Winnipeg from the Lions a couple weeks ago.

Pivoting from his goal of getting more looks in the NFL, where he played six games with the Jets in 2020, Castillo quickly made his way to Winnipeg to help solve a very shaky kicking situation and have a chance at winning his first Grey Cup.

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“Ever since I left college, I don’t think I’ve been part of a team that’s won more than four or five games,” said Castillo, who has been cut eight times by pro teams. “So, you know, ever since the CFL started, I’ve been keeping up with every game on ESPN. It’s fun just because I’ve been able to watch all my friends from different teams be able to play and just to see what Winnipeg has been able to do. I think it’s something pretty special what they’ve got going on here. So when the opportunity was presented to me, you know, it was a no-brainer.”

A year ago this time, Castillo got a similar call from the Jets.

He was home in Amarillo, Texas, working out at the gym, when his agent called and said the Jets wanted him to fly to New Jersey, at 6:15 that night, for a workout.

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“I remember it was a Thursday morning, so you’re going through your clothes, right? You know, so I’m like, I got to do laundry,” Castillo said.

“They call me an hour later. And they’re like, ‘Hey, your flight’s at 2:15.’ But it’s from Lubbock, Texas, which is about two hours south for me. And I literally packed my bag with two shorts, two underwears, my cleats, and let’s go.

“I arrived to New York/New Jersey, and it was 30 degrees (farenheit) and I forgot my sweater. So it happened all out of the blue.”

Placekicker Sergio Castillo (left) gets a pat on the back from holder Sean McGuire after his 50-yard field goal went off the crossbar and over during Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
Placekicker Sergio Castillo (left) gets a pat on the back from holder Sean McGuire after his 50-yard field goal went off the crossbar and over during Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Photo by KEVIN KING /Winnipeg Sun

Once he got there, the 5-foot-11 Castillo had a hard time convincing some of the local staff that he was a player.

“I do the workout, I sign the contract and I’m ready to go back to my room at the hotel because I’m exhausted,” Castillo said. “I didn’t sleep the night before because I was anxious, you know? But they told me we were going to have practice in by an hour and a half, go grab some lunch.

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“So I’m chowing down on my food, I’m at the lunch room. And one of the lunch ladies, she comes over and we start to chatting. And she’s like ‘Spanish, you speak Spanish?’

“I’m like yes, I do. And you know, we started talking Spanish. Now, she did not mean this in the wrong way at all, OK. She was like my grandma’s age, a sweet lady. And she asked me when I would start working with (them). So they thought I was gonna be, you know, working on the lunch. Like I said, she did not mean it the wrong way and after that they treated me like a son, having all my hot sauces ready for me.”

Along the way of Castillo’s adventures, he was named the CFL all-star kicker with the B.C. Lions in 2019. He made 41 field goals on 45 attempts (91%) and that attracted the Bombers, who had have difficulty finding anyone who can handle the place-kicking duties this season.

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Though they have been streamrolling through the season and have already clinched a home playoff game (the West Final on Dec. 5), they’ve used three different place-kickers already and have a combined success rate of 57.1% on field goal tries.

Tyler Crapigna, Marc Liegghio and Ali Mourtada have all had their chances, but the Bombers hope Castillo will give them consistency, long-distance range, and calmness under pressure in the biggest games.

“Me coming here, I’m just gonna do whatever they ask me to do,” Castillo said. “I’ve been practising, when I’ve been at home, you know, for this opportunity, and I’m ready to roll.”

The gang is all there with long snapper Mike Benson, place-kickers Sergio Castillo and Ali Mourtada and punter Marc Liegghio (from left) relaxing during Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
The gang is all there with long snapper Mike Benson, place-kickers Sergio Castillo and Ali Mourtada and punter Marc Liegghio (from left) relaxing during Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Photo by KEVIN KING /Winnipeg Sun

Crapigna has been on the six-game injured list for most of the season, while Liegghio and Mourtada were still at practice on Tuesday. Liegghio is the team’s punter and Mourtada will be sticking around until the Bombers know for sure that Castillo is healthy and up for the job.

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It’s a strange situation for so many kickers to be on the roster, but these are strange times.

It was kind of a similar situation for Castillo when he was with the Bombers back in 2015 and 2016. After he played four games with Winnipeg in 2015, the Bombers signed Medlock for the 2016 season and there was no room for Castillo, even though he started the season on the practice roster.

“In terms of the kickers, you know, we’re all human beings,” Castillo said.

“So, when Medlock came in back in 2016, you know, I was, I was a little mad, obviously, right?

“But you know, he took me under his wing. In life, you need a mentor and a mentee.

“I’m a little bit older now. So I’m taking that role now where, you know, I think it’s if we can all learn from each other and help each other out grow, you know, it’ll benefit the whole team.”

The Bombers will host quarterback Trevor Harris and the Montreal Alouettes (6-5) on Saturday night at IG Field.

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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