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The other first-rounder

The Chargers used both of their first-round draft picks on the defensive side of the ball, taking Northwestern defensive lineman Luis Castillo with the 28th pick of the first round after earlier selecting defensive end/outside linebacker Shawn Merriman of Maryland with the 12th pick.
By Tom Shanahan, San Diego Hall of Champions


Northwestern defensive tackle Luis Castillo feared he wouldn’t hear his name called in the first round of Saturday’s NFL Draft when teams such as Seattle with the 23rd pick and Atlanta with the 27th choice passed over him.

But Castillo wouldn’t have been so restless as he watched the NFL Draft unfold on television if he would have known how high the Chargers had him ranked on their draft board. When Castillo was still available with the 28th pick, the Chargers claimed him. He was the second defensive player San Diego chose in the first round after taking Maryland defensive end/outside linebacker Shawne Merriman with the 12th pick.

“Luis Castillo is somebody we had targeted, and we’re very excited,” Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith said. “It’s obviously been a defensive emphasis in the first round. We were definitely going to go defense on top (with the 12th pick), and down below (28th) we had a group of players who we were flexible with to go either way. When he was there, we decided to take a double dip on defense.”

Castillo, a 6-foot-3, 305-pounder, primarily played defensive tackle at Northwestern, where he was the school’s fourth player to earn both All-America and Academic All-America honors. But San Diego Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Personnel Buddy Nix also saw Castillo play some defensive end, and the Chargers like his versatility.

“He’s a 305-pounder who ran a 4.79 (40-yard dash time) or in the 4.8s,” Nix said. “He’s got quickness enough to run to the ball. He’s not perfect, but he’s a guy who can chase the ball down and is willing every time. (There’s) not any dog in him. He plays every snap the same.”

Castillo played his entire senior season with an elbow injury, but he still managed to finish with 75 tackles, two sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, five quarterback pressures and one forced fumble.

“I’m going to do whatever I’m asked to do and work my hardest,” Castillo said. “If it means being a nose (tackle), that’s what I did at Northwestern. If it means being an end and running down people, I’ll do whatever.”

Castillo was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but he and his mother lived in the Dominican Republic until they returned to the U.S. when he 5 years old. He grew up in Garfield, N.J., and is fluent in English and Spanish. He handled questions on Saturday from the San Diego and Tijuana media with equal aplomb in both languages, even when the questions concerned his positive test at the NFL Combine for steroids.

After his positive test, Castillo said he and his agent wrote letters to all 32 NFL teams to explain it was a one-time mistake on his part in an effort to help his elbow to heal so he could lift weights and perform at the NFL Combine in February.

“As soon as I found out, we wrote letters to the teams and I said we would put in writing in my contract that I will never test positive for steroids again, and if I do I would give back my entire signing bonus,” Castillo said. “I never needed it to play football and I’ll never need it again. I made a one-time mistake and it will never happen again.”

Castillo explained he received “some bad advice” when he decided to take the steroids.

“It was January and I was having a hard time getting back to the level I want to be,” Castillo said. “Not being able to work out and prepare for the biggest opportunity of my life, I got scared and made a huge mistake. For first time in my life, (after) doing all the right things, to have people questioning my morals and character was really tough. We’ve been on the phone with everybody. I’ve was honest with teams. It was the only way to go.”

Smith and Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer said they were satisfied with the results of their investigation.

“It’s a non-issue for us,” Smith said. “We have an investigative process we went through and we’re very comfortable with it. If we were uncomfortable with it, he would not be a San Diego Charger.”

Added Schottenheimer, “I don’t think there is any question about the character of the young man, and any research you do will indicate that. To suggest that a young man did this one time and that means a lack of character is unrealistic and, frankly, unfair.”

ESPN football analyst Sean Salisbury said he liked the Chargers’ selection of Castillo for the defense and discounted any steroids concerns.

“He wrote letters and came out clean,” Salisbury said. “I love the pick. Now when teams double team (nose tackle) Jamaal Williams, Luis comes in and takes on a big body, too. I don’t think steroids is an issue at all. I think it’s highly overrated in the NFL. I don’t think Castillo has a problem. It was a one-time thing and you won’t see it happen again.”

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