For the last 10 years, former North Garland head football coach Joe Castillo has been living out his dream of coaching the high school that he played for and graduated from in 1987.
But Castillo is a competitive person.
When he saw that the job for Little Elm head coach become open April 11 after Kendrick Brown announced that he was stepping down after eight seasons at the helm to accept a position as assistant athletic director for Little Elm ISD, Castillo viewed it as an opportunity to coach in one of the most talent-rich districts (5-6A) in all of Texas.
“(Brown) said our district is like the SEC of Texas high school football,” Castillo said. “Each week it's a challenge. That's what I wanted to be part of week in and week out, to play the best teams in the state.”
North Garland’s head football coach and athletic director since 2012, Castillo’s record of 27-71 might not be the most glamorous. But the left the Raiders’ program in much better position than the one that he inherited. Last year, North Garland went 6-5 and made a playoff appearance for the first time since 2009.
In the two years prior to Castillo’s arrival, North Garland went 1-19, including a 0-10 mark in 2011. It was a struggle – record-wise – during his first three years, as the Raiders went 1-31 in that span of play. But he knew that it was going to take time. Most importantly, his goal was to install a culture of hard work and competitiveness.
The fruits of Castillo’s labors paid off towards the end of his tenure, as North Garland finished with at least five wins in three of the last four seasons that he was in charge. Seeing that success is what made the decision to leave his alma mater even harder.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “I’m a North Garland kid. My hometown is Garland. When you tell the kids that you’re not coming back and accepted a jog at Little Elm, it is tough. But, I always remember my dad saying to me in regards to that kind of decision, make sure you left it better than you found it. I think that we left it better than we found. When I got there, it was a struggling program. Seeing it built up and competitive and the culture it has is amazing.”
Like every other coach, Castillo has people that have helped to mold him into the coach that he is today. One mentor is former North Garland coach Howard Evans. Castillo played quarterback in the early part of his high school career before moving to safety his junior year.
“He was a great influence on me,” Castillo said. “My goal in college was to be a football coach. When I was in college, I wanted to be the head football coach at North Garland, and that was goal of mine. I was very attached to him. He was a wonderful father figure. He took a lot of interest in me.”
The proudest moment of Castillo’s playing career came in 1985 when North Garland defeated Highland Park at Highlander Stadium for the first time.
“I still have the football with all of the players’ signatures from that game,” he said. “That put us on the map a little bit.”
Now at Little Elm, Castillo has spoken highly of both athletic director Michael Young and Brown. Castillo got to know Young while at McKinney North. At the time, North played in the same district as Lake Dallas, where Young served as head coach for 16 seasons.
Castillo inherits a Little Elm team that went 5-5 last year – most number of wins in a season for the Lobos since 2017, when Little Elm finished 7-3. But the Lobos will lose a large chunk of its production to graduation, including District 5-6A offensive player of the year and Washington State signee John Mateer, its top four wide receivers, top two rushers and top two cornerbacks.
But Castillo’s goal is for Little Elm this year to make the playoffs. And achieving that goal starts with hard work, he said.
“The first thing you want to get the kids to do is play hard,” he said. “There is really no magic to the game. You’ve got to block and tackle. Taking a quote from Bill Belichick, you’ve got to do your job and to the best of your ability. And I’ve got to do my best to be the best role model for these kids. Whether it’s time spent playing football, basketball, track and field – whatever it is – you’ve got to have a great relationship with the kids.”