LANDOVER, Md. (DC News Now) – The Washington Commanders celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month during their Thursday night football game against the Chicago Bears.
The Commanders have the most Latinos on their coaching staff in the league, including the only Latino head coach in the NFL, Ron Rivera.
Washington’s run game coordinator, Juan Castillo is a first-generation Mexican American, and his journey to the NFL began when his parents immigrated to the U.S. in search of the American Dream.
“Neither one of my parents went to grade school, so they didn’t really go to school,” Castillo said. “They weren’t educated.”
Castillo was born in Texas to Mexican immigrant parents who came to the United States for a better life. However, when Castillo was in sixth grade, his father, a fisherman, died in a boating accident.
That left his mother to to raise Castillo and his two sisters alone.
“My mom had to raise us by herself,” Castillo said.
He choked up thinking about his mother’s sacrifice.
“She was a maid and worked hard,” he said. “I think that’s what helped us. It was a way to get out.”
Growing up in Texas, Castillo would end up playing college football for Texas A&M Kingsville, where he later became an offensive line coach.
“To me, just an opportunity to become a full-time coach, it was great being a Hispanic, and really at that time, I just wanted to be the best coach I could be for my college,” he said.
Wanting to excel at his new position, Castillo picked seven of the best offensive line coaches in the nation and drove all across the country to learn from them for five years.
“The first couple of years, I was sleeping in my car and eating McDonald’s for breakfast and dinner,” Castillo said. “Those guys ended up taking me in and really, they mentored
People began to notice Castillo’s work ethic, which opened doors for him to coach in the NFL.
“All of a sudden, those guys started telling people about me, and it’s crazy how that’s how I got an opportunity to be an NFL coach.”
Castillo began his NFL coaching career in 1995 with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he would eventually meet the Commanders current head coach, Ron Rivera in 1999. The two have remained close ever since.
“Juan was one of those guys that wanted to outwork everybody,” Rivera said. “When you watch him, you learn from him. He’s a great example.”
Since he got his start in Philly, Castillo has been coaching in the NFL for over two decades. Growing up a first-generation Mexican American, he said he learned from his mother how to have a great work ethic.
Castillo and his two sisters, one who became a doctor and the other a marketing executive, are now living the American dream their parents wanted them to have.
“Part of it, just knowing that it can be done. We work hard, and so I think they want to give you an opportunity,” he said.