Wrestler Has Hold on Studies, Sport : High schools: Brett Castillo is on top of his classes and his weight class.


A phenomenal athlete. An academic phenomenon.

San Pasqual High wrestler Brett Castillo is both, wrapped into a 5-foot-1, 112-pound package.

Castillo possesses the athletic ability that earned him the state's top ranking at his weight class and the brains that enabled him to score 1520 out of 1600 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test.

And how do his classmates view such a prodigy?

"They think of me as eccentric or insane," Castillo said.

He uses his academic knowledge to complement his wrestling and vice-versa.

"In wrestling I feel I can use my mind," Castillo said. "I use each area to help the other. I try and out-think (my opponent). I like to see him (wrestle) first and analyze him."

Castillo said wrestling also has helped him better organize his daily routine, and the discipline has carried over to his academics.

On the SAT, Castillo, a senior, got perfect scores on the math and the Level 2 achievement section.

"He has the academic ability to go to any college he wants to," San Pasqual Coach Ron Cherkin said. "Wrestling-wise, there are a number of schools he could choose from."

Between high school, occasional college courses, tutoring and wrestling, Castillo, who maintains a perfect 4.0 grade-point average, has learned to adapt his study habits to his hectic schedule.

Teammates are used to seeing his head in a book as they travel to and from meets and tournaments. Sometimes, that's his only chance to study.

But Castillo doesn't shelve his books when school lets out for the summer.

Last summer, while most of his classmates were basking in the sun, Castillo was at UC Davis for five weeks working under a professor on a biology research project through the National Science Foundation.

Castillo was one of five students chosen out of 5,000 entries nationwide for an expedition to Antarctica next winter to study the ecosystem. A total of 200 scientists will be making the trip through the National Science Foundation.

For two weeks this summer, Castillo will travel to a college for some background research.

Because of his academic excellence and goal to earn a Ph.D., Castillo, who plans to major in molecular biology, is carefully considering which college to attend.

Although still undecided, Castillo has narrowed his choices to the University of Chicago and Caltech.

Cherkin said that on the plane going to Stockton for the state tournament last season, Castillo went page by page through a book of colleges highlighting those schools that offered the courses of study he's interested in.

Three years ago Castillo came to Cherkin as "a solid wrestler" already having two years of freestyle experience from wrestling for the "Crunchers," an Escondido club.

Because of his success in freestyle before high school, many local opponents were aware of his ability and never overlooked him because of his height.

He's used to wrestling taller opponents, but his technique and quickness--not to mention his "determination and desire," Cherkin said--compensate for his size. Those qualities last season helped him finish second at the 1-A Section tournament and third at Masters, earning a trip to state.

At state, Castillo placed second at 105 pounds when he was forced to default because of an elbow injury he suffered during the semifinals.

He had hyper-extended the elbow but had it taped and a doctor's clearance to compete.

"I told Brett if it hurt him physically I'd pull him," Cherkin said. "His arm started swelling during the first period and with about 17 seconds remaining in the second period he stopped."

"When he forfeited he apologized to the kid. He felt bad he couldn't give the kid the kind of match he deserved in the finals. Now that's class."

The forfeit was a disappointment, but at the same time Castillo was glad to have advanced that far.

"I didn't expect to be in the finals," Castillo said. "I was already so high up from that that it didn't let me down too much."

As a sophomore, Castillo won the 1-A Section title, also at 105 pounds, and placed ninth at state.

Castillo could earn his third trip to Stockton by placing in the top four at Masters this Saturday. Castillo, who is top-seeded with a season record of 29-1-1 and a career mark of 116-28-1, won the 2-A Section title and claimed his first Most Valuable Wrestler award last Saturday.

At the section meet, Castillo defeated Serra's Ikaika Molina in the semifinals. Castillo's only loss had come to Molina earlier in the season. This victory also proved to Castillo something that Cherkin said Castillo didn't realize last year.

"He has matured and knows what to do to win," Cherkin said. "When he does get a loss, and he has, he understands the setbacks.

"He knows now that he can beat people who have beaten him."

Added Castillo: "I don't know how many times I watched it (the 11-5 loss to Molina) over and over on tape. When I came off the mat I knew I wrestled very badly."

Call it psychology, but Castillo sets goals for himself in a particular way.

His goal for the state tournament isn't to make it to the finals, but to make it past the semifinals.

"Last year I knew I could wrestle at the same level," Castillo said. "This year it has been established that I should be able to wrestle at a higher level."

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