Sebastian Castro ready for veteran role in the middle of Iowa football's highly-touted secondary

IOWA CITY — Conversations about how Iowa somehow upholds its ridiculous defensive standard in 2023 usually begin on the backend, where two of the Hawkeyes' most recognizable names reside. Flanked on one side is the high-school football legend known for versatility. On the other is the prized prospect, now matching on-field success with recruiting stardom.
Yet, for as eye-popping as Cooper DeJean and Xavier Nwankpa are in a secondary currently operating as Iowa's defensive pulse, a 5-foot-11 heavy hitter who slogged his way to the spotlight might prove just as valuable.
No, Sebastian Castro didn't arrive on campus with the DeJean highlight tape or the Nwankpa fanfare. But the way Castro has positioned himself as Iowa's starting CASH in his fifth season offers up another lesson on persistence and perseverance while providing Iowa with veteran stability in a highly touted unit.
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"I feel like the old guy, you know?" Castro said this week during Tuesday's Iowa football media availability. "I feel very comfortable with where I'm at. I know the defense. Being one of the older guys, those younger guys look up to you and want to follow in your footsteps. I'm just ready to play football. That's the only thing I'm focusing on right now."
Inside a program where unassuming recruiting profiles regularly materialize into Kinnick Stadium stardom, Iowa's DB room has always been a magnet for out-of-nowhere production. Castro didn't create that blueprint; he's just mastered it like Jake Gervase, Jack Koerner and countless others to come before him. Production generated through patience tends to yield some of the strongest results.
After signing with the Hawkeyes out of the Chicago area while holding a modest offer list that included Ball State, Iowa State, Minnesota and Syracuse, Castro settled in for the grind ahead. Two sentences on his bio page are all that's needed to sum up Castro's first two Iowa seasons — a redshirt year in 2019 and one appearance against Michigan State in 2020. Six tackles over 13 games in 2021 signified a mild uptick, but still a ways away from calling Castro a quality commodity.
"Coming to Iowa and having to wait to play and just learn the whole time, it's a humbling experience," Castro said. "All I can say is that I'm grateful — wanting to play of course, but knowing that I wasn't really ready."
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Castro's door finally swung open in 2022, and he didn't miss the chance to barge through. Seven starts in 13 games at CASH — the positional buzzword in Iowa's secondary that's elevated the Hawkeyes' defense even higher in recent seasons — allowed Castro to put his punishing hits on full display.
His swift rise culminated in last season's Music City Bowl, where Castro shined all afternoon in helping limit hapless Kentucky to 117 passing yards on 37 attempts. DeJean and Nwankpa racked up the New Year's Eve headlines with a pick-six apiece, but it was Castro's steadiness in the middle of the action that stifled the Wildcats beyond repair. Performances like that — five tackles, one sack and two passes defended — have propelled Castro toward potential greatness in 2023.
"You can see that now when he's out there on the field," safety Quinn Schulte said. "He's a true veteran who knows what the offense is going to run, He knows what they're trying to do, and he's just ready to do his job. It's been very fun to see."
For as much preseason chatter centered on Iowa's offense and how its improvement will dictate 2023's success, the Hawkeyes can't afford a drastic defensive nosedive all the same. That unit has certainly earned any benefit of the doubt given recent results — particularly the last two seasons — but each squad is different in how potential morphs into production.
More: Leistikow: What brought Kaleb Brown from Ohio State to Iowa, and his plans to become a star
Gone are Riley Moss and Kaevon Merriweather from 2022's dominant backend. Jermari Harris and TJ Hall offer promise at cornerback, but how quickly can Iowa sure up that spot opposite DeJean? And has Nwankpa fully shaken off the freshman rust, even as a breakthrough is projected? Planting a veteran like Castro in the middle of that could get those questions answered sooner than later.
"I've been through what they've been through," Castro said. "They can come with any questions. I'm sure they know that, and I hope they know that. I'm not saying I know everything — no one knows everything — but I can share what I know from my experiences. That's all I can do."

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