Liberty University Coaching Staff
|Achievements:||2007 and 2008 NCAA East Regional Coach of the Year|
2009 D1 College Wrestling East Region Coach of the Year
For most head coaches, taking a non-existent program to the highest level of competition takes years of blood, sweat and tears. But not for Flames head wrestling coach Jesse Castro.
Castro was hired as the program's third head coach on Aug. 8, 2005, the second step in reestablishing a program which had been dormant since the close of the 1994 season.
Castro wasn't satisfied with merely restarting the program, but rather helping it quickly regain its prior status as a program of focus in the wrestling community.
However, not even the most devoted of Liberty's wrestling alumni could have foreseen what took place during the 2006-07 season. What began in a multi-dual meet at Virginia Tech on Nov. 5, ended with what every wrestling program dreams of, when Liberty sent four grapplers to the 2007 NCAA National Wrestling Championship in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Along the way, Castro managed to lead the Flames to a 16-8 dual meet record, a perfect 5-0 record at home and a team championship at the NCAA East Regionals. Castro was duly honored prior to the NCAA National Championship, as he was named the NCAA East Regional Coach of the Year, a first for Liberty's wrestling program.
To prove that his Flames were not just a one-year wonder, Castro challenged his squad the following year, testing Liberty by entering the Flames against some of the tougher competitions across the country.
The daunting 2007-08 schedule featured events like the Hoosier Duals, the Brockport/Oklahoma Gold Tournament and the Wendy's Big Classic Duals, giving Liberty an opportunity to grapple with the nation's elite programs.
Although the Flames' dual meet record wasn't as jaw-dropping as the previous, 11-12-1, Liberty proved that it belonged at that top level of competition, including an 18-18 draw with defending ACC champion N.C. State and a victory at the Eastern Regional Duals.
The battle-tested Flames used the stiff competition to their advantage, as on March 9, in front of their own home crowd, Liberty captured its second straight NCAA East Regional title. The day ended with Liberty claiming six weight class victories, to go along with another NCAA East Regional Coach of the Year honor for Castro.
Two weeks later, Castro took a program-best six wrestlers to the NCAA National Championship, where two of his grapplers advanced to the Round of 16 (Tim Harner/141 pounds and Chad Porter/165 pounds), another first for the ever-growing program.
The 2008-09 season saw the first set of grapplers Castro brought to Liberty Mountain complete their careers and the group looked to leave their lasting legacy on the program with another standout season.
The early part of the season was not as favorable to the Flames as the later part was, but the tougher competition did eventually prove beneficial to Liberty's senior-laden group.
The Flames showed marked improvement at their second showing at the Southern Scuffle just after the Christmas break, which seemed to jumpstart another strong finish for the program.
The battle-tested group captured its second-straight East Regional Duals title and won seven out of its last nine dual events, including victories over established programs like George Mason and Appalachian State.
Concluding the year with a 12-9-1 dual meet record, Liberty traveled to Boiling Springs, N.C., as the "hunted" instead of the "hunter" after capturing the last two team titles at the annual event.
However, Castro's experienced group was able to best the field of seven teams again, this time capturing four individual weight class titles and three runner-up finishes.
Each of the four individual title winners earned a trip to St. Louis, Mo., where they faced the best of the best at the 2009 NCAA National Championship.
Three of the four national qualifiers were seniors (Christian Smith, Harner and Chris Daggett) and Castro will certainly look back at the trio, which won 196 combined matches during their stints in a Liberty singlet with fond memories, as they helped put Liberty back on the national wrestling stage.
In just three years, Castro, who was named the 2009 East Region Coach of the Year by D1 College Wrestling, has helped 16 grapplers advance to the national championships – a mark that ranks No. 29 among Division I programs since 2007.
Now having had three solid years to build upon, only time will tell what Castro is able to accomplish with the Flames wrestling program in the future. But one thing is for sure, the West Coast native certainly has the program heading down a path only he could foresee just a few years earlier.
Castro came to Liberty from Kingsway Regional High School in Woolwich, N.J., where he served from 1997 as a health and physical education teacher (grades 9-12), head wrestling coach, head cross country coach and head tennis coach (1997-2001).
During his eight seasons at the helm of the Kingsway Regional wrestling program, Castro guided the program to a 124-29 record, five conference and South Jersey sectional championships, four district titles and a state championship in 1998.
Kingsway Regional High School was ranked in the Top 20 of the state of New Jersey six out of his last eight years (out of 384 schools) at the school. Castro, a three-time District Coach of the Year, coached 34 individual district champions, 10 state place winners, four regional champions and one state champion, while 11 of his graduates currently wrestle at the collegiate level.
"I am both thankful and excited to be a part of the continued tradition that is Liberty wrestling," commented Castro. "This program has in large part contributed to who I am today under the influence of former coaches Bob Bonheim and Don Shuler. To offer high school wrestlers an opportunity to compete at an NCAA Division I level, while receiving an education at a highly reputable Christian university is an honor and a privilege."
Castro got his start as a head coach at Norwich University in Northfield, Vt., where he served as head wrestling and cross country coach from 1988 to 1997 and as an assistant professor in the Health and Physical Education Department.
While at Norwich, the Cadets were three-time New England College Conference Wrestling Association runner-ups, as he guided the program to a 103-47 record. Four times, the Cadets were ranked in the Top 20 in the country, while Norwich produced 53 All-New England wrestlers, nine All-Americans, two national finalists and one national champion during Castro's tenure.
He was named New England College Conference Coach of the Year twice and was inducted in the Norwich University Athletic Department Hall of Fame in 2001.
Castro, no stranger to Liberty University, graduated from the program in 1981, after earning his bachelor's degree in physical education. Castro was the first four-time national champion in the history of the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association (NCCAA), compiling a career 101-20-2 record (1977-81). Castro ranks among Liberty's elite, as he is one of six wrestlers in program history to be part of the Eagle Medal Gold Club (100 or more career wins).
In each of his four years at Liberty, Castro posted 20 or more victories, including a career-best 29-5-1 record as a senior, while finishing fourth at the NAIA national championship in 1981.
After graduation, Castro served with Athletes in Action and Campus Crusade for Christ as a competitor (1981-83) and served as the head coach of teams which traveled in Japan, Russia and South Korea from 1987-89. In 1983, Castro returned to Liberty as an assistant wrestling coach and instructor in the physical education program, where he served until 1988.
During his five-year stint with the coaching staff, Liberty had five Top 25 NCAA Division II national finishes, including three Top 10 rankings and a program best fifth-place finish at the conclusion of the 1985-86 season.
The Flames also compiled a 49-22-4 dual meet record against Division I opponents and had 19 student-athletes garner Division II All-American honors.
The native of Santa Clara, Calif., earned his Master's Degree in Education from Lynchburg College in 1986. He and his wife, Elizabeth, have three daughters and a son – Sarah (15), Rachel (13) and Hannah (11) and Jesse, Jr. (2).