MAHOMET — Mateo Casillas suffered a dislocated knee cap on Dec. 19, 2020, during a wrestling tournament in Wisconsin.
Not optimal for the Mahomet-Seymour sophomore, considering he finished his freshman high school wrestling season one win away from qualifying for the Class 2A individual state tournament.
So Casillas must have spent significant time resting before the Bulldogs began their 2021 spring season last Saturday with a triangular against Lawrenceville and Pontiac.
Instead, Casillas recuperated as quickly as possible in order to see playing time as an offensive and defensive lineman during a six-game M-S spring football season, which ended on April 23.
And he balanced baseball and wrestling practices during the final week of football.
“Communicating was the biggest thing. It was tough, too. It wears on your body, as well,” Casillas said. “I feel like, in the end, it is going to be worth it, and the time I spend doing it will pay off.”
Casillas is an integral athlete on baseball coach Nic DiFilippo’s Bulldogs roster and in M-S wrestling leader Rob Ledin’s lineup.
The Pontiac transfer starts in the outfield and bats in the middle of the order on the diamond, and the 5-foot-10 Casillas remains a top dog at 195 pounds on the mat.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a conflict. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the IHSA baseball and wrestling schedules overlap significantly.
“I was going to try to do as much as I could,” Casillas said of his balancing act. “It’s huge that the coaches are very understanding and my teammates are very understanding. I’m not always going to be there, but I’ll try my best and when I’m there I’ll give 100 percent.”
DiFilippo and Ledin are completely on board with this. Partially because they don’t want to cheat Casillas of any piece of his prep athletics experience, and partially because they know what sort of impact Casillas can have on a team’s results.
“He was going to start for us (as a freshman),” DiFilippo said. “He’s just got a really strong left-handed bat. He’s just athletic, too. He’s smart. He’s a competitor.”
“We knew we were getting a pretty good wrestler and a great kid,” Ledin added. “He leads by example, even as an underclassman.”
Through M-S baseball’s 6-4 start to this season, Casillas has played in nine games and boasts eight hits — including one home run — eight RBI and nine runs scored.
He actually recorded the Bulldogs’ lone hit in a season-opening loss to Effingham St. Anthony.
“He hit a home run ... that was probably 400 feet,” DiFilippo said. “He’s gotten off to a slower start than he’d expect, but I don’t know anybody who’s doing three sports for the first three weeks.”
Casillas did not compete in the aforementioned wrestling triangular, but Ledin has high hopes for Casillas should he qualify for a planned Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association state wrestling event later this season.
“He puts in the time. He doesn’t rely on his natural abilities,” Ledin said. “I can see him making his mark this year as a sophomore at that weight class.”
How exactly does this two-sport dance look from Casillas’ perspective, though?
He’s typically attending wrestling practice at 6:30-8 a.m., going to school, attending baseball practice at 3:30-5:30 p.m., doing homework and going to sleep.
And that’s just on days without a baseball game or wrestling match.
“I’ve got to treat them equal,” Casillas said. “I can’t throw anyone under the bus.”
But Casillas can practice some wrestling moves on his baseball pals, if the moment calls for it.
“Kids at practice smart off, and then he just kind of does something. He just grabbed a kid and picked him up (one time),” DiFilippo said. “I’m like, ‘Trust me, that’s a big boy. You don’t want to mess around with him.’”