Head football coach Richard Lee was repeatedly asked the same question in the days following Cathedral City’s 34-21 win over West Valley last Friday: Why didn’t he allow Luis Castellanos to try a 62-yard field goal as time expired in the first half?
It was a reasonable question. After all, the senior placekicker had easily converted a pair of 45-yarders earlier in the half and is 17-for-17 on extra point attempts this season. And this year in practice, Castellanos has converted on more than one attempt from beyond 60 yards.
He’s part of the reason the Lions are the only remaining unbeaten team in the valley and why they are off to their first 3-0 start since 2006. Cathedral City will have a chance to move to 4-0 for the first time in more than a decade Friday at Desert Mirage (0-4).
“Anytime you kick a 40-yard field goal plus, that’s pretty good,” Lee said of Castellanos’ two field goals Friday. “And if you noticed, both of them were on the hash (marks). He’s really playing well for us.”
Castellanos, a converted soccer player, is not the prototypical place kicker whose only football skill is kicking a ball. A three-sport athlete, he started on the school’s varsity soccer and baseball teams last year and is fast and strong enough that Lee said he could play a skill position in football if keeping him healthy wasn’t paramount.
Now a senior, Castellanos is still learning the intricacies of the game but is already a player Lee said is scholarship worthy. He’s that good.
“I’ve been soccer-oriented since I was 4,” Castellanos said. “I’ve always had a strong kick in soccer, and then the previous kicker, Josh Sonica, encouraged me to come out and give football a try.”
Sonica took the time to show Castellanos how to become more accurate with his powerful kicks, and was the first one who floated the idea that Castellanos could one day play in college. That served as motivation, and eventually an appreciation for the football crowd and the stadium lights on Friday night followed.
“I mean, that’s another weapon,” Lee said. “If we get down to a game that’s decided by six, three points or something like that, I like our chances.”
Castellanos kicked with mixed results last year while still learning the game, becoming more accurate and finding his confidence. His powerful leg was evident, but he needed to become more consistent, Lee said.
This summer, while working out with the rest of the team, he pushed himself to get stronger and find the accuracy to become one of the premier kickers in the valley. He became a bit of perfectionist, he said. The results eventually translated to success on the field.
In practice, he began hitting from 60 yards out. Castellanos said he’s typically just 1-of-6 from beyond 60 yards, but at least he’s shown the ability to make them on occasion. Teammates say from 50 yards or fewer, he’s pretty much automatic.
“He makes our offense that much better, and takes a lot of pressure off us,” junior quarterback Davin Lile said. “If we get inside the 40, we feel we’re into comfortable field-goal range.”
There are several good kickers throughout the valley, but not all of them have the leg to convert from long distance, and with accuracy. Castellanos has both.
“That is a dimension very few offenses in the valley have,” Lile said. “That’s our one-up on teams.”
Defensively, Castellanos might be equally important. He has the ability to boot the ball deep in the end zone, forcing teams to drive 80 yards on the Lions’ defense. That has been a factor in opposing teams only scoring 40 points this season.
Lee jokes that some of Castellanos’ teammates have grumbled that they just want to tackle somebody on kickoffs but rarely get the chance to do so.
“Just being out here, it’s a great feeling knowing that you’re doing your job and helping out the team,” Castellanos said. “Being a part of what we now have here is just such an amazing feeling.”
Last Friday, when Castellanos made the first of his two 45-yard field goals, he came trotting off the field not knowing the exact distance. Lee eventually asked him, “Do you know how long that was?’ “
Three possessions later, he did it again.
Afterward, the West Valley public address announcer turned off his microphone and said to no one in particular, “Are you kidding me? That could have gone another 10 yards, easy.”
Still, Castellanos was a little relieved Lee didn’t ask him to try what would have been a 62-yarder as time expired in the first half. He didn’t want to attempt what ultimately would have been a meaningless kick that likely would have messed up his perfect conversion rate.
Not that Castellanos won’t be ready if asked to put his leg to the test with the game on the line.
“I can’t wait to be in that situation,” Castellanos said. “I’m ready for it.”