CHICAGO — About this time last year, Greg Castillo lost his starting job.
After a poor performance against Iowa State, he went to the bench for the rest of the season. What happens from there can define an individual and a team. Castillo could’ve folded up into the fetal position and pouted his way to anonymity.
Instead, he embraced his role, stayed awake in meetings and decided he wanted to contribute. This is a little story in the grand scheme, but it’s also one of those things that eventually shows up and gives you a program welfare check.
Without Castillo, the Hawkeyes probably lose to Northern Illinois on Saturday.
“Play . . . of . . . the . . . game,” senior cornerback Micah Hyde said. “Honestly, play of the game.”
The fifth-year senior saved a John Wienke punt from bouncing into the end zone and it was eventually downed at the 1. The Hawkeyes defense held and set up the offense at NIU’s 24-yard line with 3:41 left in the game. The way Iowa’s offense was going against the Huskies, it needed all the help it could get.
It’s not an understatement that Castillo’s hustle saved the game.
“If that ball had rolled through the end zone, this could be a different kind of interview right now,” linebacker James Morris said.
The question to Castillo was about the Hawkeyes’ attitude on the sideline. But really, it kind of said it all for his personal story, which could have been a very different one after getting yanked a year ago.
“Just the positive attitude that we have with everything,” Castillo said. “That’s the thing. Things weren’t going well, we just leaned on positive attitude.”
Take the fifth-year senior theme and extrapolate it on this punt. Freshman Connor Kornbrath, who averaged 41.3 yards with a long of 51, handled Iowa’s first three punts. This one was handled by Wienke, a former quarterback, who trotted onto the field after an Iowa drive fizzled at NIU’s 46. One punt, 43 yards, one downed inside the 20 and no return yards.
The ball bounced right at Castillo. He ended up on the turf and in the end zone, but he stretched his arm out and kept the ball out of the end zone. That’s two fifth-year seniors who’ve played very little counting when their names were called.
“It was a big play in the game,” Castillo said.
The Iowa defense held. Three plays later, running back Damon Bullock sprinted untouched into the end zone for an 18-17 lead.
That wasn’t the only highlight for Castillo. When junior B.J. Lowery left the game with bruised ribs, Castillo replaced him. The Huskies went right after him for a big completion and he broke it up.
“This is what you live for, moments like this,” Castillo said. “I’m a fifth-year senior, I’ve been around here. I was ready.”
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