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Sunday, September 14, 2008
Updated: September 15, 8:08 PM ET
Eagles' Castillo determined to honor his past

By Elizabeth Merrill
ESPN.com

The tour to knowledge and self-fulfillment is cheap if you know how to scrimp. Juan Castillo didn't tell people this at first, that his hotel was the front seat of a Jeep, and the executive washroom was the $5-a-day showers at Gold's Gym. Crazy. That's what his banker used to call him when Castillo wanted to borrow money for gas and three daily meals at McDonald's so he could travel during his off weeks as a Division II football assistant.

He wasn't driving from Notre Dame to Washington to beg for jobs. He just wanted to learn from the best, take some film back home to Texas A&M-Kingsville, let a handful of others dream.

"The thing about this story," Castillo says, "is it's not about me. This story is about (saying) 'Hey, Frank, Jose, Carlino … it can be done, man. Look at what this dude did. Ain't nobody give him nothing. He worked his butt off, slept in cars. Anything is possible.'"

Juan Castillo
Juan Castillo, the offensive line coach for the Philadelphia Eagles, wants other young men with Hispanic heritage to see they can live their dreams.

This story will be told in a rush. It is Cowboys-Eagles week, and Castillo, the offensive line coach for Philadelphia, is busy. He sleeps in more sophisticated places now, like on the couch in his office. He is, no doubt, beyond the imagination of his parents who crossed into the United States from Mexico as teenagers. Happiness, for them, was feeding the family. And after his dad died when he was 12, Castillo's mother, Juanita, found joy in fixing breakfast for her children before her 11-hour-a-day work shifts.

He was embarrassed of her a little as a kid, because she was a maid. Now, at 48, he wells up when he thinks of her, her work ethic, and how she never got to see her son make it big.

Castillo, the Eagles say, is one of just two coaches in the NFL of Hispanic descent. (The other is San Diego Chargers linebackers coach Ron Rivera.) Castillo is here, mainly, because he had his mother's persistence. When his friends laughed at him the summer before his senior year of high school, after he said he'd make all-state, Castillo came home most nights, after working two jobs, and carried a table from the living room to the yard. That would be his weight bench, and he'd lift and run for two hours. When Division I schools snubbed him for coaching jobs, Castillo kept traveling in his spare time to learn from offensive-line gurus like Howard Mudd and Joe Moore.

Castillo's work helped Texas A&M-Kingsville churn out four NFL offensive linemen, and landed Castillo in the league in 1995.

"Without him, there's no way I would've made it," says Jermane Mayberry, a former Pro Bowl guard who played for Castillo in Kingsville and Philadelphia. "He saw something in me."

Castillo grew up in Port Isabel, Texas, a town in which everything hinged on high school football and the Dallas Cowboys. On Friday night, it shut down to watch the boys play. Castillo loved the way the town rallied around the team. He won't lie about it -- he went to college to play football, not to learn biology.

He wrote an essay about how he wanted to go to college, and earned a $500 scholarship to A&M-Kingsville, which was then called Texas A&I. After two seasons as a special-teams player in the USFL, it became obvious to Castillo that his only football future was in coaching. He was an assistant at Kingsville High, then went back to A&M-Kingsville as the offensive line coach.

Juan Castillo
Castillo has been with the Eagles since 1995, and is in his 11th season as offensive line coach.
His practices, today, would go against NCAA regulations. If the team was supposed to start at 3:45, Castillo wanted his linemen working at 3. They'd also work on conditioning after the rest of the team had left for the night.

Castillo would lift and run with his players.

"We used to talk about how our line was better than the University of Texas' offensive line," Castillo says. "People would look at me back then and say I was crazy, but my guys believed they were better. Maybe we were."

In 1996, Mayberry became a first-round draft pick for the Eagles. In high school, he was a complete unknown from a tiny Texas town called Floresville. Mayberry had just two options going into the final game of his senior year, and they both involved junior colleges in West Texas.

"As far as techniques, I was as raw as raw gets," Mayberry says. "I never really lifted weights or anything. I did not even have a good game; I just happened to have a couple of good blocks.

"He molded me into the player I became."

Mayberry struggled when he first got to Philadelphia, playing several positions before nailing down a spot at right guard. Castillo, Mayberry says, was loyal but didn't treat him any differently because of their history in Kingsville.

In 2002, when Mayberry made the Pro Bowl, Castillo said it was "one of the best days of my life." Though Mayberry is retired, he still talks to Castillo every couple of weeks.

"He is a rare person," Mayberry says. "To know him is to love him."

Castillo spent nearly an hour, during Cowboys week, talking about his past. He doesn't want to forget about it. It's too much of who he is in the present.

"I was blessed better than a lot of people," he says. "What you learned is work ethic. That's what I remember from my mom, how hard she worked and how caring she was. So I wanted to be somebody.

"I remember people laughing when I used to tell them I wanted to coach in the NFL. You've got to believe. Here, you've got a chance."

Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at merrill2323@hotmail.com.