During Washington Commandos practices, Dale Castro spends most of his time doing things that might seem strange to some people.
Sometimes, on the scout team that starters face, he'll play defensive back. Sometimes, he'll fill in as the third quarterback. Sometimes, he'll line up at offensive guard -- which might be an occasion for a little ribbing.
After all -- even though he is 6 feet 2, 220 pounds -- Castro is the team's kicker, one of those notoriously scrawny guys who often have little to do with the rest of the team's practice routines. "He'll come and give me a look, or whatever," said lineman Sean McInerney. "And sometimes I'll pick him up and carry him."
One of Castro's best traits is his willingness to participate in practices, said Commandos Coach Bob Harrison, whose team plays the Chicago Bruisers Thursday night at Capital Centre. "Usually, most kickers go off by themselves and do their own thing," he said. "People usually get upset because of kickers doing that."
With the Arena Football League's tiny rosters, Castro might not have much choice. "It's nice to know when you've got 16 guys that your kicker is willing to jump in and perform," said assistant coach Jim Williams.
But Castro's biggest contribution is undoubtedly during games: he has kicked 10 of 17 field goals this season, including three of six from 50 yards. He also has hit 13 of 19 conversions through the nine-foot-wide goalposts, giving him a league-leading 43 points.
"I don't think there was any point where we didn't think kickers would be important," Williams said. "Anytime you're out there, you're kicking for points."
In Arena Football, there is no punting, so punts are automatically replaced by field goal attempts. If a missed field goal rebounds off the goal-side nets, the ball remains in play.
The ball also is live on kickoffs that bounce off the net. Considering the 50-yard length and 85-foot width of the field, that doesn't leave much room between a kicker and the rest of the mob during a return.
"I have to be prepared. The dimensions call for it," Castro said. "One cut, and the guy could be at midfield."
Sure enough, Castro has been in on several tackles, and he threw a block on a successful fake field goal against Denver. "He's an excellent athlete for a kicker," Williams said. "I feel comfortable with Dale out there on kickoffs. He will go out and make a tackle, though you usually don't want your kicker doing that."
Then there's the drop kick. One of the quirky aspects of Arena Football, it has been tried only twice in eight league games, without success. But its value is attractive: a conversion drop kick is worth two points, a field goal drop kick four.
During the Commandos' season-opening loss to Pittsburgh on June 19, Castro tried a game-ending drop kick conversion that would have tied the game at 48. The ball, snapped perfectly, sailed wide right.
"It is so hard to consistently make," said Castro, who drop-kicks five of the 25 minutes he practices kicking each day. "That's the only situation we'll use it. I just try to drop it straight and meet it when it hits the ground."
Several days after the loss to Pittsburgh, when the Commandos took a look at the Capital Centre before their first home game, Harrison asked Castro to demonstrate the kick for several media people.
"Dale, when you get a chance, I want you to drop-kick a few," Harrison said.
"Just like last week?" asked Castro, smiling.
"No, I want it through," Harrison said.
The first three kicks, from about 25 yards, were wide.
"Oh, de'ja` vu," McInerney, the snapper, shouted.
The fourth kick went through. "I concentrate a lot better in the game," Castro said.
Like most of his teammates, Castro is practicing and playing football while the rest of his life is on hold. He has counseled juvenile delinquents and coached high school football since 1982. That year, he played a few games for the Washington Federals; afterward, he said he didn't expect to play again.
Then one day this spring, while working on a masters degree in guidance counseling at Bowie State, he read about the "intriguing" new game in the newspaper. Two open tryout camps later, he was a member of the home team and a key part of the new league.
"I thought he put on a good show in training camp," McInerney said. "But I don't think anyone thought he would be as good as he is, including him."