STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
MARBLE FALLS — Part of the thrill of competing under the Friday night lights is hearing the roar of the crowd and the band playing the school’s fight song.
But Marble Falls High School football player Ernesto Castenada has a different experience.
Castenada was born deaf and learned to speak at 2 years old. However, his disability hasn’t stopped the junior defensive lineman from playing the sport he loves.
“I love hitting, tackling, and making plays,” the noseguard said. “I always man-up the center. It’s challenging. My challenge is to get sacks. I practice a lot to get ready for the games.”
Castenada reads lips, so people must remember to look at him as they speak, but he is so good at reading lips and speaking that few people know he is deaf.
“I wasn’t aware of that the first two weeks (of practices),” said first-year defensive line coach Cyril Lemon. “He plays through that. He plays through the whistle.”
Castenada only quits going when he sees the action stop on the field.
“The kid works so hard, and he never makes excuses,” said defensive coordinator Chad Bishop. “He’s never used it as a crutch. He’s the type of kid who makes coaching fun because he’s hardworking and he does everything we ask him to do.”
Castenada began playing football in the sixth grade. With dedication, he improved every day. He wanted to be a fullback and still prefers blocking over tackling.
Active and effective defenses are as vocal as the offenses. Most fans can hear the quarterback when he’s at the line of scrimmage waiting for the snap, but the center is also yelling out protections and the defense is just as vocal.
Castenada’s presence has made his teammates even better communicators as they have to tell him before they get to the line what they’re doing.
“You have to talk with them and how it’s going to work with plays and learn the plays,” Castenada said.
Lemon said it’s not enough to yell instructions to his players. He has to tell them to get Castenada’s attention so the lineman looks to his coach for the signals.
“He has to see me,” Lemon said. “I get his teammates around him to communicate things to him.”
As a result, the defensive linemen have a deeper bond.
“We’re trying to build a brotherhood,” Lemon said. “We have leaders on defense, and it starts with us. It’s trench warfare, and we play for each other, play for the brother next to you.”
Though he’s never heard fans cheer after a big play, that hasn’t stopped Castenada from feeling the joy.
“My teammates celebrate with me,” he said, “and that’s enough.”
Castenada also is on the powerlifting and track-and-field teams. Weighing 240 pounds, Castenada competes in the 220- to 241-pound weight class on the powerlifting team. The sport requires three lifts: bench press, squat, and deadlift.
While the ability to lift hundreds of pounds of weight is a huge part of the sport, a lifter’s form and ability to hold that weight in place once it’s lifted is part of the judging process. Lifters hear a horn that, after a certain amount of time, let’s them know they can drop the weight. Coaches had to develop a way to tell Castenada to put down the weight.
On the bench press, he turns his head to see a signal. For the squat and deadlift, coaches stand where he can see them.
The son of Maribel and Octavio Castenada wants to become an architect. Marble Falls interim head football coach Mike Birdwell said the way the player applies himself in the classroom and on his teams will make the youngster successful.
“He’s a really neat kid,” Birdwell said. “He has a support system here and at home. We appreciate his hard work. He’s the kind of kid we need more of around here.”
The Marble Falls Mustangs kick off District 26-5A play on the road against San Antonio Alamo Heights. Read more about the game HERE.