Standing on the football field at the University of the Incarnate Word ready to talk to me about his journey, Eric Castillo couldn’t help but reflect on how he got to where he is today.
“I was just talking to my friend about it, I said, ‘Do you want to hear something so powerful?’” admits Castillo. “I said, ‘Man, I’m going to do this phone interview…here I am coming back a year later sharing my story as I watch a game on the field that I gave three years of my life to.’”
Castillo, who turns 32 this coming December, stepped onto the football field at University of the Incarnate Word at age 28, with no prior football experience, ready and willing to chase a wild dream. The father of two had already reached rock bottom, faced enormous demons, and was struggling to figure out how to be a better dad to his children when he decided that he would go to school and play football.
“For me, I needed a challenge,” explains Castillo. “It almost felt like I was at a crossroads in my life, so in order to create a new path, a new journey, I needed that challenge. So it was either, for me, the military or college football.”
Castillo, who had recently hit rock bottom with his alcoholism and had not seen his kids in some time, decided that getting into football at 28 would set him on the path he felt he needed to go down in order to better his life.
“When I started doing research on different universities here in San Antonio, Texas, I saw University of the Incarnate Word, and the football program was only two years old, so at that time, I knew it was an opportunity for me.
“I instantly started training for it,” continues Castillo. “With the process of that, with the training and leading up to actually being accepted and doing a walk on here at the university, I wound up playing for three years.”
Castillo wasn’t just another player, though. The athlete, who had virtually no football experience prior to joining the team, made his entire life about the game, going so far as to close down the gym that he was running in order to devote his time and energy to football. During his time on the team, Castillo, who joked about being called “OG” by his much younger teammates, was a shining light for the UIW team, and at 30 years old, during his last season with the college, he was invited along with only 95 other players to UIW’s 2013 First Division 1 football camp.
During his time at UIW, Castillo was inspired to form a nonprofit organization, aptly called A Walk In My Shoes, and his work with the organization wound up winning him a KSAT 12 News Community Service Award. To date, the organization has donated 11,000 pairs of shoes to needy children in the San Antonio area, and Castillo acknowledges how powerful it was for him to go from a hopeless life to a useful and service-filled one.
“When I was making that change in my life, I thought, ‘There I was six years ago drinking malt liquor 40s in a bush with homeless people, and now here I am on a college football field, waking up at six in the morning, have all my teammates next to me,’ and I open my eyes slowly, look up, and I see the sunset coming up, and in the background I can hear the bells going off. In my head I’m thinking, ‘Man, how did I go from there to here?’ and for me, that’s when I knew that it was so powerful and so spiritual to go from one place to another like that. It was a big change.”
Nowadays, Castillo is no longer playing football at UIW, but he’s not ready to end that chapter of his life. A brand new documentary called “The Power of a Dream” is currently being produced about the 31-year-old’s journey from hardship to success. The documentary follows Castillo through much of his time playing for UIW and takes a look at how the father of two, who has since reconnected with his beloved sons, is continuing to inspire people by simply telling his story.
“Every Friday before the Saturday game, I would go to the Boys and Girls Club and share my story because I wanted to start creating momentum,” he says. “I had to be my own PR, I had to do my own marketing, because if I wanted to do this, I had to play so many different roles. I knew that because I had learned a lot from A Walk In My Shoes. So I took those same pieces that I learned from that, and I put it into ‘The Power of a Dream.’”
The film, which is being produced by Taylor Trash Productions, features Heisman trophy winner Ricky Williams as well as NFL star Lenny Walls, and Castillo says they plan to release it in the coming months with the hopes that it will be screened at different film festivals around the world.
Castillo’s inspirational story has captured the hearts of many in the San Antonio area, and now, with the upcoming release of him film, he’s bound to make an impact on a much larger scale.
“It’s not just about football, it’s about life,” Castillo explains. “It’s about overcoming, perseverance, falling down, getting back up, and just never giving up. It’s pretty powerful.”
Eric Castillo says he has no reservations about sharing his story and knows that by doing so, he could be helping others who are going through what he’s gone through and inspiring them to achieve their dreams.
“A lot of people are scared to share their story, but for me, I have too much not to share,” he says. “It would be selfish for me not to go out there and share what I’ve been through, what I’ve went through, and where I’m at today. There are people out there that need to hear it.”
Photos provided by Eric Castillo.