Castillo primed for the Prime Time

The Chargers are a team littered with big names and star players. LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Lorenzo Neal, Jamal Williams, Shawne Merriman and Donnie Edwards have all been mentioned among the league's elite at their respective positions. That impressive fraternity may soon be inducting another member, as Luis Castillo appears ready to take his game to another level.

Luis Castillo is hardly a glamorous player. As a defensive lineman in a 3-4 alignment, his job is more about tying up blockers and clogging running lanes than registering sacks and making tackles for gaudy losses. Still, Castillo's rookie numbers were pretty impressive. He put up 61 tackles and three-and-a-half sacks last season, and that sack number would have been even higher if he hadn't let several quarterbacks literally slip out of his grasp.

"I learned a lot from him on and off the field," former Northwestern defensive tackle Barry Cofield, who was drafted by the New York Giants in the 2006 NFL Draft, said. "He is a great student, a great quality guy, so I learned a lot from his experiences last year."

But the intangibles Castillo brings to the field are equally impressive. He is a tireless worker and one of the most energetic big men in the game today. His coaches, teammates and fans all know they will get a complete effort from him on every snap, and that makes him all the more likeable. Anyone who would question his enthusiasm needs look no further than the game against Indianapolis. When he came up with that fourth-quarter sack on Peyton Manning that forced the Colts to punt with time winding down, his elation was undeniable.

"As a defensive lineman you always want to get to the quarterback and get the sacks," said Castillo.

Heading into just his second season, the future looks bright for Castillo. He heads into the off-season completely healthy and as an unquestioned starter, two things that could not be said a summer ago. That will mean increased repetitions this time around that should lead to increased productivity in the fall. Also, Castillo now has a year of experience in Wade Phillip's defense, and should be able to think less and react more during his sophomore campaign.

One would think that Castillo would be frustrated by the lack of recognition he received (besides that from coach Schottenheimer) for his stellar 2005 season. Donnie Edwards continued to draw much praise, and Merriman won numerous rookie-of-the-year awards, and yet none of the linebackers could have accomplished what they did without the work of Castillo and his fellow defensive linemen.

"I don't think Castillo gets enough credit, teammate Randall Godfrey said. "A guy who can shed tackles and make plays the way he does, he is a great player."

"Luis is probably the most athletic 300-pounder I've ever seen," Schottenheimer said on cue. "He's got such quick hands and feet. He moves so well and never allows himself to get out of position."

Castillo never sought more attention, however. He is a team-oriented player who legitimately cares more about winning than anything else. But whether he wants it or not, the recognition is coming. He is too good a player to remain in relative obscurity much longer. And while his only goal may be to play in Miami at the end of the 2006 season, his final destination may end up being Hawaii. It's not that he craves such accolades, only that he unquestionably deserves them.

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