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Castillo knew he had to be patient in order to return to Blue Bombers

Sergio Castillo Winnipeg Blue Bombers Sergio Castillo - The Canadian Press

Experience has taught Sergio Castillo the value of patience.

The veteran kicker re-signed with Winnipeg on Friday, some 10 days after becoming a CFL free agent. But with CFL rushing leader Brady Oliveira — the league's top Canadian last season — and American receiver Dalton Schoen among the Blue Bombers slated to hit the open market, Castillo understood the club's priority in trying to get those players signed first.

"I understood from the get-go it was going to be a little lengthy," the 33-year-old Castillo said during a teleconference Monday. "I had to be patient.

"Being in my ninth year already, I understand how free agency works and understanding that helped give me a bit of a calm and just that once those guys signed I knew I'd probably next in line."

The five-foot-nine, 197-pound Castillo made 46-of-51 field goal attempts last season, his 90.2 per cent success ratio being the best in Bombers history. He was perfect (31-of-31) from inside 40 yards, 15-of-20 from beyond 40 and a stellar four-of-six from 50-plus yards with a season-best 53-yard boot.

This will mark the first time in Castillo's pro career (which began in 2014 with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons) that he'll play two straight seasons with the same team. Castillo began his CFL tenure with Winnipeg (2015-16) but started on the practice roster in August 2015 then opened 2016 on the injured list behind veteran Justin Medlock before being released in September.

Castillo earned a Grey Cup ring with Winnipeg in 2021 before signing a two-year deal with Edmonton. But after making 37-of-44 field goals (89.7 per cent) and 26-of-29 conversions in 2022 Castillo was released before the start of training camp in 2023 and quickly re-signed with Winnipeg.

Despite being a CFL free agent, Castillo said leaving Winnipeg wasn't really on his radar.

"It was just Winnipeg the whole time," he said. "I've learned over the years I've had to keep my emotions to the side, not take everything to heart and understand that everything works at its own time.

"In the meantime, (just) focus on what I do in the off-season, which is working on the strength-and-conditioning part, not eat too much rice and beans and tacos because then it can affect me later on. I'm definitely glad to be back, to be a Bomber so we can finish the end goal this time."

Winnipeg made a fourth straight Grey Cup appearance in 2023 but dropped a 28-24 loss to the Montreal Alouettes. It was the second straight championship defeat for the Bombers, who suffered a heartbreaking 24-23 setback to the Toronto Argonauts in 2022.

The losses came following consecutive Grey Cup wins over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2019 and 2021.

Castillo, a native of La Joya, Texas, has appeared in 77 career CFL games, having also spent time with Ottawa (2016), Hamilton (2017) and B.C. (2019). He has converted 170-of-196 field goal attempts (86.7 per cent) including a career-long 57-yard try.

Castillo was a 2019 CFL all-star and spent time the following season with the NFL's New York Jets.

The Bombers also signed American receiver K.J. Hill on Monday, The 2020 seventh-round pick of the NFL's Los Angeles Chargers is Ohio State's all-time receptions leader (201) and had a catch in a school record-tying 48 straight games.

Hill also accumulated 2,332 receiving yards (seventh-most in school history) and 20 touchdowns, including 10 as a senior in 2019.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2024.