Friday, January 26, 2018

DeCastro: 'I'm in my prime' ahead of Pro Bowl

Francis Okupa, KweseESPN
January 26, 2018
Image result for david decastro 2018
Oct 22, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers offensive guard David DeCastro (66) blocks at the line of scrimmage against Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins (97) during the first quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 29-14. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Half an hour after their Divisional playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room stood mostly empty, and fairly quiet. Right guard David DeCastro was one of the last players to leave, slowly getting dressed to face the frigid weather outside.
Standing by his locker in the vast black and gold room, DeCastro's intimidating 6'5" 316lb frame contrasted with his polite and humble demeanor. His willingness to converse with reporters, even after tough games, is well documented, and it remained true here, despite the crushing disappointment of the day.
That polite attitude to the press is fairly typical of South African sportsmen, and with his body he'd have been a monster on a rugby field, had his parents remained in the Republic after meeting at the University of Cape Town. A lock, perhaps, or maybe Eighth Man?
DeCastro, born in Kirkland, just east of Seattle, to South African parents, agrees that rugby could have been his path, telling KweséESPN, "I think if my dad had got a job [in South Africa] we would have ended up moving there and I would probably be playing rugby or something."
But that was not his fate, to the ever-thankful delight of Steelers' fans, who will have their wounds slightly soothed by watching him play in the Pro Bowl on 28 January, his third consecutive appearance.
This season, Pro Football Focus rated DeCastro as the top-ranked guard in the NFL, and awarded him their Bruce Matthews award for the Best Offensive Lineman in the NFL regardless of position.
The Stanford grad received much recognition this season for his excellence in run blocking but his pass protection ability was just as exceptional. He didn't allow a single sack on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, while playing every snap for the Steelers offense.
Now at the top of his game, and preparing to play in Sunday's Pro Bowl, DeCastro spoke about the deserved recognition: "I'm feeling pretty good, I'm in the prime of my career.
"I know how to play, it's kind of like they always say [at a point] your athleticism and your experience kind of meet. So as you get older your athleticism goes down and experience up.
"So it's one of those things where you are just kind of in your prime and you've got to take advantage of it. Obviously there's a huge tremendous amount of respect to be getting voted to the Pro Bowl three times. I never really dreamed of it."
Image result for david decastro jaguars 2018
Rob Carr/Getty Images
The Steelers selected DeCastro out of Stanford with the 24th pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft. Unfortunately for the right guard, he suffered a knee injury during pre-season and ended up missing most of his rookie year.
Reflecting on his introduction to the league, he recalls needing to dig deep upon his return to a team that hardly knew him: "I blew my knee and then I missed 10 games and I came back again. It was a tough transition. Geno Atkins ran around me and beat me for some sacks.
"After the season you have a 'Come to Jesus' moment with yourself and just try to work on getting better. The challenge is elite. Every Sunday it's difficult and that's what makes it fun."
Learning from veterans helped speed up his process, with fellow 2017 Pro Bowl selection Maurkice Pouncey a mentor to the young newbie: "Pouncey's obviously one of those guys you just follow right behind, he'll lead the way. He's been great."
The ability to appreciate greatness at his position is one of DeCastro's strengths, as he adds: "I've always liked [Baltimore's Marshall] Yanda but unfortunately he's been hurt. He's a stud. Great to meet him in the Pro Bowl a couple of years ago and just a great guy.
"Another one is Zack Martin. Heckuva player. To make All-Pro as a rookie... you're just like damn! You watch him and he's legit. There's a lot of good guys in this league so when you get voted and get rewards, it means a lot."
Once Sunday's game is over, DeCastro will reflect on the past season, then rest and recharge for the next one.
He says, "We just had our baby girl two months ago. [I'll] just rest up, relax, I like to fish. Get ready for football, get back to working out.
"I only have a couple more years left playing this game. It's been fun so I've got to make the most of it."
One thing he can add to his To-Do list once his NFL career is over is a return to South Africa. While he's visited several times in his life, his trip in 2014 is a highlight as he had the NFL-earned money to go big on all the touristy things one hopes to do in the country.
"It was beautiful. It's a beautiful country. We did the safari thing. I had a little bit of money so that was nice to be able to do that. It was probably my favourite trip I've ever done. I'd love to go back. I wish I could go back every year," he says.
His grandfather was celebrating his 90th birthday, hence the trip, and DeCastro was able to take his then-girlfriend, now-wife, to the cities were his parents grew up before they moved to the United States.
"We did Johannesburg because my mom grew up there, then we went on a safari after that. Then we went to Cape Town after the safari, and Cape Town is beautiful. My dad grew up in Sea Point. It's pretty neat to see the history, where they come from."

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