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The Mind in the Middle

The Mind in the Middle

Time management and determination have helped David Castillo excel on  the football field and in the classroom

By Frank J. Matthews

Adults regularly ask children what they want to be when they grow up. The responses are often interesting. But David Castillo knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life, even at a young age. And now he’s well on his way to accomplishing his childhood dream.

“I’ve known since I was five years old that I wanted to become a doctor,” says Castillo, a center for the Florida State University Seminoles’ football team and Diverse’s Arthur Ashe Jr. Male Sports Scholar of the Year. He has long excelled at both academics and athletics. The senior earned a bachelor’s in exercise science in the fall of 2004 and is currently working on a second degree in dietetics. In addition, he’s taken the MCAT, the medical school entrance exam, and is considering medical school in the fall. 

It didn’t take much research for FSU’s coaches and staff to realize that Castillo was the quintessential student-athlete.

“David came with two goals, first to get into medical school and second to be a football player,” says Amy Lord, associate director of athletic academic support at FSU.

Castillo credits his parents for putting his priorities in perspective.

“My mother never let me go play with my friends or go to practice unless my school work was done first,” he says. “My dad was an engineer and has a master’s degree from the University of Florida, so he would say if my grades started to slip, the sports would have to go.”

His parents’ guidance and influence have clearly paid off. ESPN The Magazine selected him as a Second-Team Academic All American this season. He also won the 2005 Jim Tatum Award, given annually to the best football student-athlete in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), making him only the second FSU player to receive the honor. He is also the second Seminole football player ever to pursue a pre-med curriculum. Castillo has been on the ACC Honor Roll all five years at Florida State and won a postgraduate scholarship from the National Football Foundation, which will go towards medical school “depending on what happens in the NFL Draft in April,” he says. He also won the FSU 2005 Golden Torch Award for having the highest GPA on the football team.

While academics have always been a focus for Castillo, football is a relatively recent interest. Baseball and soccer were his sports of choice while growing up in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He didn’t play organized football until his freshman year of high school, when the high school coaches took note of the 5’10”, 240-pound 14-year-old. They convinced him to go out for the team.

The football team struggled through a 1-9 season his freshman year. But as the players matured, the team’s record improved. As a senior, the team went 8-3 and Castillo earned district player of the year honors while anchoring the middle of the offensive line. But as his fortunes were rising on the football field, so was his reputation as a student.

During high school, Castillo was inducted into the National Honor Society and joined a medical preparatory program. He gradated with a 3.5 GPA and was voted “Most Scholastic” by his fellow classmates. Meanwhile, he was being bombarded by recruiting letters and phone calls from college football programs around the country.

“I got recruited by a lot of major schools,” Castillo says. “I got offers from all the Ivy League schools, all of the military schools, Kansas State, Michigan and pretty much all of the big schools.”

He only visited two schools, one of which was Florida State. He says that was all he needed.

“[Head] Coach Bowden offered me a scholarship in person in his office and from then on, I was a Seminole. Getting to play for a team that had just won the national championship, getting to play for Coach Bowden and following in the footsteps of some of the best players who have ever played football was a tremendous honor,” Castillo says.

As to the recent controversy surrounding Florida State’s mascot, the Seminoles, Castillo says, “I don’t have a problem with the name because the Seminole tribe has given the university the right to use the name and because the school always represents them in a respectful manner that is approved by the tribe.”

It has been six years since Castillo made what he considers to be one the biggest and best decisions of his life. Since then, he has grown into a 6’2”, 300-pound force on the offensive line. However, he didn’t play his first two years at FSU because of injuries, which extended his playing eligibility and gave him extra time to focus on his studies.

“I had to make a lot of sacrifices,” says Castillo. “There were plenty of times when my teammates and friends would be going out to the movies or to play pool, and I would tell them I couldn’t because I had a test the next day or some chapters I needed to read.

“Being a student-athlete and taking a pre-med curriculum really limits the amount of free time you have,” he says. “It’s a big sacrifice that you have to make. You don’t get to have the normal college experience.”

Time conflicts have been one obstacle during his college career. For example, many lab courses meet at the same time as football practice.

“We have football practice on Monday evenings so we work with our players to schedule their lab courses on Monday afternoon,” says Lord, the academic advisor.

In addition, the team’s academic advisors would often send him to FSU’s College of Medicine to meet with the pre-health advisor. Not only was Castillo making sure his course requirements were in order, he was making himself known to the faculty and staff at the college.

“I like his chances of getting into Florida State’s medical school,” says Lord.

For student-athletes daring to follow in Castillo’s footsteps — taking on Division I-A football and pursuing medical school — he recommends being extremely committed and seeking out academic support.

“You’re not going to want to make the sacrifices if you’re not 100 percent committed to being a doctor, and always admit when you need help and take advantage of tutors,” Castillo says.

If he isn’t selected in the upcoming NFL Draft, there is a good chance Castillo will be heading to Florida State’s medical school for class and not just for curriculum advice.

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