By Crystal Moncivais
LOGOS SPORTS EDITOR
Eric Castillo, the oldest football player to walk onto the young Cardinal team with no previous gridiron experience, will be putting on his uniform the last time this season.
Before becoming a part of the University of the Incarnate Word community, Castillo, 30, said he was fighting his own war against alcohol. Being married and having kids at a young age opened up new emotions in Castillo which later led him to become an alcoholic.
Castillo was beginning to lose it all. He lost his landscaping company, his wife, and his two young sons. He realized he had hit rock bottom and it was time to turn things around the night he jumped onto a concrete slab, bashing his fist into a glass window, leaving him with the final thought of never being able to use his hand again.
“I think me messing up my hand was really a blessing in disguise,” Castillo said. “There needed to be some kind of a turnaround and for me I think that was the turnaround. With that came redirecting myself into fitness because when someone says you can’t use your hand again and that doesn’t open your eyes, then I don’t know what does.”
Castillo dedicated himself to the gym where he took it upon himself to research rehab exercises for his hand on YouTube. He wanted to become someone better and fitness took him there. He fell in love with running which gave him the opportunity to be a part of many 5K and 10K runs. Things didn’t stop there. Castillo busted through his rock-bottom nightmare and became his own motivation, giving him the drive to want to help others in need.
“I couldn’t use my hand, so running really became a huge part of my life because that’s where I was able to start turning everything around. It became my inspiration. I was doing things that they said I would never be able to do. I was motivating myself within the barriers of them saying ‘You can’t do this. You can’t do that.’ I wanted to help others so that’s when I got into fitness and started doing personal training. Every client I had I would share my story with them. It became my testimonial.”
After rehabbing his hand back to life and helping others become healthier and happier, Castillo decided he needed a new challenge. That’s when the vision of playing football for UIW came along. He had zero football experience but he knew he was driven, ambitious and willing to work as hard as he needed to be a part of the Cardinal football family.
“I remember seeing this guy named Banda on YouTube as UIW came out running in smoke. He was the oldest one on the team. I said if he could do it, then I can do it. So I set the date to close down my gym and I went all in on this dream. I had a lot of critics that said I would never be able to do it. All I did was train, sleep, eat, train, sleep, eat.”
Castillo said meeting former San Antonio Mayor Ed Garza through Facebook led to them having dinner together where they talked about what Castillo wanted to accomplish.
Castillo then applied to UIW in hopes he would be able to continue his big dream. First rejected, Castillo said he began to feel discouraged. He said Garza encouraged him to appeal.
“I took a package to UIW with an appeal letter e-mailed the night before and a few hours after I sent in that package I got a call from Incarnate Word saying I was accepted,” Castillo said. “It was just another chapter in my life that started at that point.”
As soon as he got accepted, Castillo went to go talk to the head coach, did everything he had to do and started spring practice, making the team as a 6-1, 200-pound defensive back.
“Everything was new to me. I was taking 12 hours and football. It was like a class to me since I’ve never had any football experience, and now here I am in my last year, three years later.”
With football almost over, Castillo knows this is just the beginning. As he puts on that uniform for the last time in Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium with his two sons at his side, he looks back remembering all the struggles he has overcome and the accomplishments he has made including collecting more than a thousand pair of shoes for the needy for his Walk in My Shoes foundation.
“I did what I wanted to do,” Castillo said. “I chased my dream and I caught it. Now I want to share my experience. If you have a vision of what you want to do, never give up. That’s one of my main things.”