For Boston College offensive lineman Anthony Castonzo, football has been a commitment for some time. His school record 54 starts represent just one example of his dedication. The technical aspects of playing offensive tackle have demanded his full attention for the better part of the last four years knowing an NFL career was lying in wait. Fortunately for him he always had the time being a strong academic.
"Football is my first love," he said. "I think I put probably more work into what happened on the field. Academics have always come pretty easy to me. Football is something I love so I pour everything I have into it."
An Illinois state scholar in high school, Castonzo took on biochemistry as a major in college and described it as "fairly easy." After football the pass protector fully intends to put his education to good use, citing Boston College teammate Mark Herzlich as inspiration.
Herzlich, who missed the 2009 season after being diagnosed with bone cancer, made a successful return to the playing field in 2010 and the linebacker is expected to be drafted this spring.
"He's obviously an amazing cancer survivor and he has his business degree from Boston College and I have a biochemistry degree from Boston College," said Castonzo. "We've talked about maybe after we're done to join forces and start a cancer foundation."
Castonzo find medical research intriguing and knows if he and Herzlich have successful NFL careers they'll be able to use that platform to effectively serve others.
"I don't want to squander the opportunity I have to make a difference," he said. "I'm happy where I'm at and I'd like to use that to help people. And it'd be great if we can help another person like Mark to beat cancer and continue to pursue their dreams. What better opportunity for me than to have a guy like him."
Castonzo still remembers Herzlich's first game back after being declared cancer free.
"It was amazing and whenever we'd get down during the season we'd look to him and think that nothing was impossible and we could turn our season around," he said. "He was definitely a great inspiration for our team."
From the time Castonzo started as a freshman at right tackle, with Matt Ryan as his quarterback, he's been pretty inspirational himself. The Illinois native was not recruited out of high school. At 6'7 and 220 pounds he didn't look anything like an offensive lineman. So he went to prep school for a year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia.
Now five years later he's considered the top offensive tackle in this year's draft class, a mantle he's not afraid to carry as he still remembers all the naysayers growing up.
"I heard from a lot of people, 'Don't set your sights on the NFL because you might be heartbroken.' I've always thought, why not shoot for the stars," said Castonzo. "I've always desired to be the best and regardless of what anyone says it's what I'm going to try and do."
After his third straight season at left tackle for the Eagles this past year Castonzo has shown to be a pretty solid pass protector, which is the main reason why his stock is so high for what has largely become a passing league.
"There's a big stress on passing the ball in the NFL and at tackle pass protection is really important," he said. "So I'm really trying to hone my skills there. Run blocking is more about leverage and being nasty and just getting your hands inside and moving your feet. Pass protection is more about technique and takes more time to get that down."
"I think Castonzo is a top 15 pick," said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock. "I like him in the run game too even though he was on the left side. He also did well at the Senior Bowl. They moved him around a lot and with the exception of a few snaps in the game he had a good week."
So although he has a clear plan for helping others when his playing career is over, for the foreseeable future the self-driven tackle will help improve his odds for a long and successful career in the NFL with practice habits that go beyond the practice field.
"I'm never 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."