Four years ago, Kevin Castro had no idea what the Catholic League was.
Now, he’d do anything to bring home a PCL championship.
Castro is a senior on the Father Judge High School soccer team, but he grew up in Bensalem, and he fully expected to play soccer for the Owls when he hit freshman year.
But while playing for FC Coppa, he learned about Judge, and after meeting coach John Dunlop and visiting the school, he thought it would be a perfect fit.
It turned out to be even better than expected.
“I had no idea about Judge or the Catholic League until my dad was talking to people when I was playing for Coppa,” said Castro, who still lives in Bensalem. “Me and my family are Catholic, so we really liked the idea of going to Catholic school.
“I talked with a bunch of schools after that, but I loved Judge right from the start. I really liked it. We picked Judge and I definitely wouldn’t change anything. It’s been great.”
Well, he wouldn’t change what happened, but he definitely wants to make a change this year. He wants to make sure Judge brings home the Catholic League championship.
He’s been close, now he wants to celebrate, and the Crusaders are in the driver’s seat.
Judge went undefeated in Catholic League play, winning every game and finishing a perfect 11-0. They did so in dominating fashion, outscoring league foes 41-6.
By every metric, the Crusaders are the best team in the league, and have the ability to make a deep run in the state playoffs.
Castro is proud of what his team has done so far, but his goals are starting right now.
“It feels great, but it doesn’t matter until the playoffs,” Castro said of his team’s regular season success. “Anything can happen. It feels good to be undefeated in the Catholic League. A lot of good teams out there, it gets competitive. You get good crowds, a lot of pressure, but when the whistle blows it all goes away and you focus on the game.“
Forgive Castro if he’s more focused on the future than the tremendous recent past the Crusaders just enjoyed.
But as good as winning feels, losing in the postseason is even harder, especially when you get to the brink of a championship.
The Crusaders have lost in two straight Catholic League championships. Both games were fantastic, and could have gone either way, but both times Judge left unfulfilled.
Castro and his teammates are going to do everything to make sure the third time is the charm, and they plan on bringing that PCL plaque back to Judge. Things get started this week with a game against St. Joe’s Prep in the first round of the playoffs on Friday at Ramp.
“I’ve been taught to respect my opponents and that’s pretty easy in the Catholic League because there are so many good teams,” Castro said. “Anyone can win, anything can happen in soccer. The best team doesn’t always win. If the other team wants it more, they can beat you. Even if they’re not as good as you, you don’t respect someone, you’ll be in trouble. It’s the first rule they teach you in soccer.
“The Catholic League, if you’re not ready, you’re not going to win. If you take teams not too seriously, they’ll beat you. Even if you give it your best, the better team doesn’t always win. That’s why we have to be great. Other teams will be great, and we know we have to be great.”
Castro is ready.
The attacking midfielder is a huge part of Judge’s transition offense, and it’s a role he loves. He credits his teammates for making him a better player, but the four-year starter has all the skills he needs to be an elite player.
“On Judge, my role is attacking center mid,” Castro said. “I have to be creative with Abou (Cherif), Michael Regan and the other guys. We have to break the defensive line. Some teams try to play for the tie against us, the other defenses are very good, and they work hard at keeping us from scoring. So we have to pass the ball around, try to break the defensive line. I’m the guy they go to for that.”
Not only has he been preparing for this his entire time at Judge, he’s been doing this his entire life.
Castro comes from a family of soccer players. His dad, born in Mexico, was a star soccer player there, and a student of the game. He’s passed on his knowledge.
“I come from a soccer family,” he said. “My dad coached me. He has pushed me to my limits sometimes, he’s a great coach. We would lose games and I would run, and he would be hard on me. I feel like that’s why I’m the player I am. The harder you work, the more you get out of it. If he didn’t push me, I wouldn’t have been good, I wouldn’t be at Father Judge. Much of my success comes from my family.
“They’ve always been there for me. My dad played striker and goalie, he always wants me to play with attitude. You can play bad, but play with attitude. And (Dunlop) loves my dad. They always talk. They have a good relationship. They have the same blood flowing through them, it’s all about attitude. Work hard and play like a dog out there.”
He also studies hard.
Castro is a strong student in the classroom and takes advanced-placement courses. Next year, he’s in line for even more challenging classes.
“I want to major in engineering,” Castro said. “My goal is to play soccer professionally, so I’d love to go (Division I) for it, but I do well in school. That’s my backup plan because I know that’s important to have. I take school very seriously.”
It sure would be nice to be an honor student with a Catholic League championship.
“Our goal is to be perfect in the playoffs,” Castro said. “We had a great season, but everything starts now. We need to be ready.”