He has grown into the job

BC’s Castonzo now rated highly

BC tackle Anthony Castonzo was never discouraged when people said he shouldn’t expect to make it to the NFL. BC tackle Anthony Castonzo was never discouraged when people said he shouldn’t expect to make it to the NFL. (File/Michael Conroy/Associated Press)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 27, 2011

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Anthony Castonzo was not a man-child, not one of those hulking, muscular teenagers who looks like an acne-prone Paul Bunyan.

He was, in his words, “a 6-foot-7, 220-pound drink of water’’ coming out of Lake Zurich High in Illinois, one who did not have a single scholarship offer.

So he went to prep school at Virginia’s Fork Union Military Academy and got big enough to get on the path to the Bunyanesque frame he’d need if he was going to play in the trenches in college.

He got big enough to capture Boston College’s attention, and was good enough to start at right tackle as a true freshman, the first to do so in more than a decade at the Heights, which is known for cranking out top offensive linemen.

As a sophomore, he moved to left tackle and was the starter there for the next three years, earning all-conference honors each season.

Castonzo was a college success story, but he wanted more. He wanted the NFL.

“Growing up, I heard from a lot of people, ‘Don’t set your sights on the NFL, because you might be heartbroken,’ ’’ he said. “I’ve always thought, ‘Why not shoot for the stars?’

“It’s just something I’ve always desired — to be the best, and regardless of what anyone says, it’s what I’m going to try and do.’’

As it was, coming off his senior season but still months away from the draft, Castonzo was considered one of the best tackles available. But he wanted more.

So he headed to IMG in Florida and began working with offensive line guru Tom Lovat, whose coaching career included stops with Green Bay and Seattle, among other teams. He prepared Miami’s Jake Long and the Packers’ Bryan Bulaga before they were drafted.

“He’s been working with me a lot on my technique: stand square in the pass set, things I can do with my hands. Kind of preparing me for the next level,’’ Castonzo said.

It improved his already solid footwork, which he showed off at the Senior Bowl in late January and again at the NFL combine in February. Though he is still 6 feet 7 inches, Castonzo weighed in at 311 pounds at the latter event, and isn’t soft as you might expect an offensive lineman to be: At his weigh-in, one draftnik detected a faint six-pack in his midsection.

The only time Castonzo stumbled during the predraft process was when coaches at the Senior Bowl asked him to play some guard. Working in a smaller space, Castonzo’s long arms and great feet were not the assets they are at tackle.

Scouts for the Senior Bowl had a slightly different take on Castonzo’s performance at guard than he did.

“I did it because I was asked to do it,’’ he said. “I thought I was going to be real awkward there and I actually kind of surprised myself and felt better than I thought I would. It’s a little more versatility.’’

Depending on whom you read or talk to, Castonzo is either the first- or second-rated tackle prospect among draft experts. Southern Cal’s Tyron Smith, who is leaving school as a junior, is graded slightly better by some, for his athleticism and potential.

Other top prospects are Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi and Colorado’s Nate Solder.

But where Castonzo beats them all is in the widely held belief that he can be an impact player from Day One.

“The issue with [Solder] is consistency,’’ said ESPN analyst Mel Kiper. “He’s not a finished product. He’s not an Anthony Castonzo, who’s going to come in ready to play at a solid level.’’

Former NFL coach Jon Gruden concurs.

“Castonzo is probably the most polished guy,’’ said Gruden. “He started 50 games at BC [actually a school-record 54]. You see him in a pro-style offense. He’s the guy, I think, in this group that’s the most polished.’’

Castonzo’s first love is football, and he clearly excels at that. But he’s a heck of a student, too. An Academic All-American who majored in biochemistry, he also was a Rhodes Scholarship candidate.

Academics have always come easily to him, Castonzo said, and he didn’t put as much into them as he did football.

Being intelligent is an asset for an offensive lineman, Castonzo believes.

“I think it’s a huge [asset] because you’ve got to be able to understand not just what you’re doing on a play but kind of how the play works out as a scheme because defenses aren’t stationary,’’ he said. “They’re constantly moving around, so you’ve got to know how you’re going to react to how they’re going to react.

“It’s almost like a chess game. Just trying to stay one step ahead.’’

Once his playing days are done, he wants to pursue an advanced degree and possibly go into cancer research. But if Castonzo is as good in the NFL as many believe he will be, his playing days may not be ending for at least 10 years.

“I’m not really satisfied,’’ he said. “My goal is to be better. I eventually want to be the best. I feel like no matter how good I am, I can always be better. That’s just something I’ve always done.

“I’ve always been in my bedroom doing kick-steps, in the hallway doing kick-steps. Constantly thinking about the game. I think that’s what sets me apart. It’s almost an obsession with being the best.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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