A cadre of family members was overcome with emotion earlier this month when Marcus Castillo pinned his opponent to a black wrestling mat in the Prescott Valley Events Center.
While the victorious end to a wrestling match was nothing new to the fan base, that pin marked the end off a historic career at Mountain View High School, and cemented the young man’s place in the records books as the first three-time state champion in school history.
The 18-year-old senior beat fellow Tucsonan, Tyler Rokop, of Ironwood Ridge in the final round of the 132-pound weight class in the Division II championship.
Castillo did so using his trademark mix of brute strength and dazzling speed, taking down his final high school foe in four minutes and 32 seconds.
The victory clinched Castillo’s third championship in as many years for longtime Mountain View coach PJ Ponce, guiding the Lions to a second-place finish in the 39-team competition.
It was an accomplishment few around the program will forget anytime soon, one Castillo’s father, Richard, called “bittersweet.”
“Everybody was crying, but we were doing so because we were happy that he won it and also realizing that we’re not going to see this again in high school,” he said.
For Castillo, winning a third state title serves as another accomplishment in this chapter his journey through the sport he loves more than anything.
Castillo began wrestling when he was 10, and the father-son duo has invested great amounts of time and effort on the sport. Richard has driven his son around the country to compete in various youth and high school competitions.
The young man grew to savor the time he spent with his father, with the two growing closer with each passing event.
Wrestling soon offered Castillo the opportunity to use his smaller frame to his advantage, thwarting 158 of the 164 opponents he faced in four years of high school.
It was a sport that stole Castillo’s heart immediately, as wrestling’s intrinsically self-reliant structure fit his unique skill set perfectly.
“You don’t have to worry about your teammates; it’s just all you,” Castillo said. “You have to work, and you go out there just you, so you can’t blame anyone. It’s just all on your back.”
That work ethic has driven Castillo from an early age, both in athletics and with his schoolwork, resulting in a spot on the National High School Coaches Association Academic All-American list in 2017.
Castillo sports a 3.45 GPA, and will continue his wrestling career at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. His decision to migrate some 1,277 miles east was twofold: UALR offered a full scholarship, and he couldn’t pass on the opportunity to join a team which launches its first season this fall. A member of the 2017 Mountain View team that won the school’s first team wide championship, Castillo said he was drawn to the prospect of becoming the first Trojan to win an NCAA championship.
“I thought it’d be cool to be the first to ever do it,” Castillo said. “Hopefully be the first All-American, first national champ there. So, I thought that was pretty interesting.”
Ponce believes that Castillo has the right stuff to accomplish his goals, calling the senior a one-of-a-kind student-athlete.
“Marcus is a complete package, Ponce said. “He’s not only a fine wrestler, but it’s his character, and his leadership that helped guide us, these last three years.”
Castillo’s decision to shirk the comforts of home for a brighter educational future is a point of pride for Richard, who always preached education to both of his sons.
“Me and his mama always stressed to him that without the academics, there will be no wrestling,” Richard said. “And I think that’s where some athletes get confused. They can be great athletes, but they don’t attack the school work the way they attack their sport. And I told Marcus it doesn’t matter how good of a wrestler you are, if you don’t have the grades, you won’t be wrestling.”
That advice didn’t fall on deaf ears, as Castillo was able to cash in on his academic prowess to take a 60 percent athletic scholarship from UALR and turn it into a full ride, thanks to a 40 percent academic offer.
Castillo plans on putting that money to good use, studying anything science-related, with Marine Ecology and Biology vying for his time.
In retrospect, Castillo believes the many long nights spent pouring over his textbooks and honing his trade were fruitful.
He’s hopeful that his brother, Esai, who is a freshman wrestler at Mountain View, will pick up where he left off.
“I tell him you got to push yourself every day, and that I didn’t just get here working out once a day,” Castillo said. “I put in the extra time, the overtime. You have to if you want to be the best.”
It’s a certainly a tall standard for anyone to live up to, but one that Richard believes to not be a burden on Esai.
“When they were younger, they could not get along, and then, as they got older, they built a great relationship; they’re inseparable,” Richard said. “And Marcus has put a lot of extra wok into his brother, while stressing to him that he doesn’t have to try to be like him. Be your own self and you put your own foot in this and do what you want to get out of it.”
For Castillo, the fruits of his many years of grueling labor are coming to harvest, serving as a point of pride for all involved, and a blueprint for future Lions that want to reach their sport’s upper echelon.
“I’m blessed, it just kind of shows how hard I’ve worked throughout life,” Castillo said. “I’ve put in the work for it, and now I’m getting paid for it, and it’s finally paying off.”