Grey Cup kickers look to good thoughts to help survive bad weather


Published December 12, 2021 at 9:57 am

HAMILTON — Checking the weather first thing in the morning is standard procedure for Michael Domagala.

It could mean the difference between a good day on the job or a difficult one for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats kicker.

On Saturday, no one would have questioned Domagala or Winnipeg Blue Bombers counterpart Sergio Castillo for considering staying in their respective beds on the eve of Grey Cup. While the temperature was balmy, high winds buffeted Tim Hortons Field, knocking over heavy metal stanchions on the sidelines while loudly whipping plastic light covering in the end zone. 

The Grey Cup teams used a number of kickers this season. Domagala and Castillo are the last men standing — hopefully.

The forecast for kickoff Sunday at 6 p.m. ET at Tim Hortons Field is more benign than Saturday’s wind tunnel — three degrees Celsius and no precipitation, although winds are forecast for 20 km/h with 40 km/h gusts.

Kicking in nightmarish conditions is nothing new for Domagala or Castillo, however. Ask a kicker about his horror stories and he’ll rival Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss comparing scars in “Jaws.”

Each stadium has its tendencies. Domagala says he knows Tim Hortons Field. Castillo says his hometown of Amarillo will put Chicago to shame when it comes to wind.

“It’s flat there,” he explained.

The Bomber is also coming off a nightmare weather day. He says last weekend’s West final in Winnipeg was the hardest game he’s ever played “in terms of judging the wind.”

Castillo survives the stress of the job by trying to stay in the moment.

“Literally I break down my day,” said the sunny Texan. “Breakfast. Netflix. Practice. So right now I’m enjoying you guys. I’m not worried about the wind or anything. I’m just soaking all this in. It took me seven years to get here so I’m living day by day.”

Seven years and stints with the Atlanta Falcons, Blue Bombers (twice), Ottawa Redblacks, Tiger-Cats, San Antonio Commanders (Alliance of American Football), B.C. Lions, New York Jets, Houston Roughnecks (XFL) and Tennessee Titans.

The 31-year-old Castillo reckons he was cut nine times before accomplishing his dream of playing in the NFL, appearing in six games with the Jets last year.

 When it comes to job security, kicking is up there with bomb disposal.

“Think about it. There’s only 41 jobs in the whole world,” he said referencing the 32 NFL and nine CFL teams. “And there’s only 41 guys and it’s not like there’s plenty of backups. So you just have to have a lot of patience. But you’ve got to work on it daily.”

In contrast, Domagala has not spent much time on the kicking carousel. After playing at Carleton University from 2013 to 2018, the 26-year-old from St. Catharines, Ont., was signed (December 2018), released (June 2019) and signed again (in July) by the Tiger-Cats.

While Domagala starts the morning checking the forecast on his phone, Castillo opts for a game-day omelette with bacon, sausage, ham and jalapenos.

“That’s the one day I’ll drink coffee,” he said. “And then I have to have two or three pancakes.

“I kind of go fatty-mode on game day,” he added with a laugh. “And as well after the game too, I’ll have my box of pizza — just for me. If you’re going to come over, I’ll get your box. I don’t like to share the box. I’ll have my hot Cheetos. I’ll put them in the freezer the day before. It just makes it extra-crunchier. Then I’ll have some kind of sweet as well after the game — Timbits, ice cream, cookies with milk, something like that.”

Given that menu, perhaps it’s no wonder high winds don’t move Castillo. But the five-foot-11 184-pounder leaves little to chance, carrying around a list of a half-dozen affirmations, quotes or verses.

“Before I win the battle on the field, first I’ve got to win it up here,” he said, pointing to his head.

The piece of paper with positive thoughts can be found “between my hip and my pants on the right side,” he explained.

“So any time I feel an ounce of doubt — it can sometimes be once in a quarter, sometimes it can be 10 times in a quarter, I don’t know how the mind is going to be — at least I have something to attack the mind in that aspect.”

Castillo says the reason why the mental game is especially important for kickers is simple.

“Because we have so much time to think,” he said. “We only play for two, three seconds at a time. We only get three or four kicks at a game. Think about it. That’s 10 to 12 seconds in a 60-minute game. So just controlling the mind and being able to stay in the moment, not to think too far ahead.”

His mentality is “Miss or make. Next one.”

But staying in the moment isn’t always easy for kickers, he acknowledged. Especially when looking for employment.

“When I didn’t have a job, I was always looking towards the future,” he said.

Domagala takes a Zen approach to his occupation, noting: “Both teams have to kick in the same weather. So it’s fair game, really.”

That doesn’t stop him from trying to get an edge by visualizing kicks. So does Castillo, who — no matter where — goes throughout his whole routine, from imagining getting the green light from coach Mike O’Shea, to his ritual touching the ground and making the sign of the cross.

“Just like I’m in the game. So when I’m in the game, it doesn’t feel new. It’s like I’ve been here before,” Castillo said. “The body and the mind always revert to what it’s comfortable doing under stress.”

Domagala is also big on planning. On Saturday, the five-foot-nine 202-pounder wrote a list to help visualize “every situation, every kick.”

“Even though it might not happen, you have to see it before you get out there … In practice we go through every situation known to mankind in the CFL game, so when we’re not shocked when it actually happens,” Domagala said.

Castillo already has his Grey Cup Sunday planned out. A happy ending.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2021

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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