Texas Panhandle standouts Cornelius, Castillo, grateful for XFL opportunity


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Bushland graduate Taylor Cornelius, left, and West Texas A&M grad, Sergio Castillo made impacts in the XFL before the season was cancelled Thursday. [Photo cred: Tampa Bay Vipers Twitter/ Matt Smith for Press Pass Sports]

Like the rest of professional sports across the country, the XFL released a statement Thursday that the league was cancelling the remainder of its season.

The XFL did not cite the coronavirus for the reason, stating, “Currently, the XFL will not be playing its regular season games. However, all players will be paid their base pay and benefits for the 2020 regular season. All XFL ticket holders will be issued refunds or credit toward future games. The XFL is committed to playing a full season in 2021 and future years”.

The cancellation sent shockwaves through league that included two former Texas Panhandle standouts.

Bushland graduate Taylor Cornelius and arguably West Texas A&M’s best kicker to ever play for the Buffs, Sergio Castillo, were both starters on their respective teams.

Cornelius, who started 13 games at Oklahoma State in 2018, had cemented himself as the starting quarterback for the Tampa Bay Vipers, while Castillo was enjoying a superb season kicking for the Houston Roughnecks.

Both young men say they were stunned when they received the news of the league being cancelled.

“We found out Thursday,” Castillo said. “We were suppose to leave for New York on Friday, and play the Guardians on Saturday. You could tell though there was a vibe at practice on that Thursday. It felt different, and something was off.”

Cornelius agreed.

“It shocked me,” Cornelius said. “We’d had a normal practice, and then we went home and management told us we’d probably get an email from the league. It rapidly went from playing with no fans, to a two-week suspension, to the league to being cancelled. They sent guys home even that day.”

Cornelius and Castillo were in the midst of having solid years. Castillo’s Roughnecks were the XFL’s best team at 5-0. Castillo, who graduated from West Texas A&M in 2013, had put all but one kickoff into play — thanks to a touchback being a no-no in the league — and was 5-of-9 on field goals with a long of 44-yards.

Bushland and Oklahoma State graduate, Taylor Cornelius, started four games for the Vipers throwing for 858 yards. [Photo cred: Tampa Bay Vipers Twitter]

Corenlius was getting better by the week despite his Vipers 1-4 record. Cornelius took over for opening day starter Aaron Murray after week one, never relinquishing the reigns. His first start in Seattle was rough, however, the 6-foot-6, 225 pound gunslinger was hitting his stride over his last three starts. During a 25-0 blanking of the D.C. Defenders in Week 4, Cornelius was prolific, going 24-of-31 for 224 yards with a passing and rushing TD.

In his last game at the L.A. Wildcats, he surpassed the 300 yard passing mark for the first time in his pro career, adding two passing touchdowns, and a rushing TD.

“It’s been a great opportunity,” said Cornelius, who was 78-of-123 for 858 yards through four XFL starts. “I have no complaints. I got to continue playing football. I hate the season is over. I think we were starting to gel. I was getting comfortable getting reps, and we’d been playing great as a team the past few weeks.”

Unlike Castillo, this was Cornelius’ first professional home. Cornelius is still in Tampa Bay, and hopes to get a shot with an NFL team. If that doesn’t pan out, he’ll be back with the Vipers for the 2021 season.

Castillo played seven years of professional football from the NFL to the CFL, the AAF, and now the XFL. [Matt Smith/ For Press Pass Sports]

Castillo, who has bounced around the CFL since 2014, is back in Amarillo for now as a co-owner of The Fit Factory, located at 3411 NE Amarillo Boulevard.

Castillo is also hopeful the NFL comes calling. If not, he’s more than ready to kick again for a CFL squad, or the Roughnecks next spring.

One thing both Cornelius and Castillo do say, is they loved their brief time in the XFL, and how they were treated as players.

“I loved every bit of my time in this league. “Cornelius said. “They housed us, we had great health benefits and we got paid well. We’re also getting paid for this entire season. The best part though was how they made it for fans. Players might not like being interviewed after a mistake but you respect it. The communication through the headsets with your running back and receivers was huge. It took a lot off your plate.”

Castillo echoed Cornelius’ comment.

“It was a unique experience,” Castillo said. “The fans were amazing. We didn’t expect to have 20,000 every game, but we did. The kickoff was unique because no one was getting hurt. Even as a kicker, watching the conversions got you excited, and the crowd excited.

“The XFL put a good product on the field, and they took care of us. They paid us well, they are paying through the year, and I think Vince McMahon did a great job hiring Oliver Luck as the commissioner.”

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