The City of Edmonton let out a big sigh of relief last week when the Elks won the Sergio Castillo sweepstakes and solved their kicking game uncertainty in one fell swoop.
The Green and Gold paid top dollar to ensure that the Grey Cup hero and former league all-star didn’t choose another destination, but as Castillo told 630 CHED’s Reid Wilkins, coming to Edmonton was about more than a bag of cash.
“I’ve learned in life, relationships are key and I remember my first CFL tryout ever was in the spring of 2015 at a high school in Dallas, Texas,” Castillo recalled. “It was with Chris Jones.”
The current Elks’ head coach and general manager was the first talent evaluator from north of the border to show interest in the West Texas A&M product after his brief stint with the Atlanta Falcons. However, the pairing was not to be, as Jones went on to win a Grey Cup that season with Canadians Grant Shaw and Sean Whyte — whom Castillo will now replace — sharing kicking duties.
Nevertheless, the ultimate recruiter made sure to develop the relationship even after Castillo entered the CFL with the Bombers that season and the two have stayed in contact.
“I never got to play with him, obviously, these past six years, but we kept the relationship. Just: ‘Hey, how you doing?’ Just catching up here and there. That’s one thing I really appreciate,” Castillo explained, adding that Jones wasn’t the only member of the Edmonton front office to take that approach.
“And then obviously with [assistant GM Geroy Simon] he was the one that brought me in during 2019 with the B.C. Lions. We’ve kept in touch, even though I went to New York and ended up going to the XFL and then back to Winnipeg.”
Because of Simon’s recruitment, Castillo was named a league all-star in 2019 with B.C. after connecting on 41-of-45 field-goal attempts (91.1 percent), including five field goals covering 50 yards or longer. He used the success as a launching pad to the NFL during the canceled 2020 CFL season, connecting on 8-of-13 field goals in seven games with the New York Jets.
After spending training camp with the Tennessee Titans, Castillo finished the 2021 season back with the Blue Bombers. In five games with the blue and gold, he connected on 12-of-14 field goals and eight-of-nine converts, while helping the team win the 108th Grey Cup with a five field goal performance against Hamilton.
Being a part of a championship team in Winnipeg was a career-defining moment for the kicker, but doing it from scratch with a management group that has shown quiet support for him throughout his journey would be even more special.
“Like I said, one thing I’ve learned is that relationships are key and I appreciate people that are genuine,” Castillo said of Jones and Simon. “That’s what made it easy to come to Edmonton and build something great.”