NEW YORK— When Kyle Castner was seven years old, he had strep throat. So his parents took him to the doctor to get medication.
Along with those meds, he returned home with something else. Insulin, a blood tester and life altering diagnosis: juvenille (type 1) diabetes.
“At first I didn’t know what diabetes really was,” Castner, a junior political science major, recalled. “My parents had to explain that to me and they were really reluctant to see what I could do with diabetes. They didn’t know either."
What Castner came to prove was that diabetes was not going to stop him from playing football. He was the starting quarterback at Ben Davis High School in Indiana from his sophomore to his senior year, earned Mr. Indiana Football for the Quarterback position in 2015 and led his high school team to a Class 6A state title during his senior year.
“There’s really nothing that can hold you back from doing what you want to do,” he said. “With the right people around you, I think anything is possible.”
His diabetes also played a factor in Castner coming to Columbia. He received the Jay Cutler Athletic Scholarship from the Diabetes Scholars Foundation, which is given each year to three athletes with type-one diabetes who will play a sport in college.
Castner looked up to Cutler as a quarterback with diabetes who made it to the highest level. During the spring, Castner was given some life altering news, this time on the football field. After playing quarterback for his entire life, the Columbia coaching staff wanted to move him to wide receiver.
“I was open to switching. I really enjoy being outside and being a part of the action. Whatever I can do to help the team do better on the field,” Castner said.
Position changes are common in college football, but as Coach Al Bagnoli put it, there’s no “crystal ball” that guarantees a position change will be effective. He’s done it many times. “He’s made that transition better than any guy I’ve ever had,” Bagnoli said. “He’s really been the most pleasant surprise we’ve had in preseason camp.”
Castner has also been a pleasant surprise and a welcome addition to the depth chart for Columbia wide receivers coach Todd Gilcrist.
“You don't see a lot of guys who go from quarterback to then come over to be a deep threat and an all around receiver,” Gilcrist said. “He brings such a sure handedness to the position. He doesn’t drop many balls.”
Castner will line up as a wide receiver for the first time tomorrow when Columbia welcomes Wagner in the season opener, trying to prove, yet again, that his latest challenge is just another part of his story.