Two years ago, when Jonathan Castellano was a freshman on the Union City High School freshman football team, he didn’t get to see much action.
“I was underachieving,” Castellano said. “I was trying to prove myself, to show what I was capable of, but the coaches didn’t pay attention to me. There were other talented players on the team, so I could understand why they didn’t see me. But I always felt like I could do the same things that they were doing.”
There was one problem. At the time, Castellano was perhaps 5-foot-5 and weighed around 135 pounds.
“There were a lot of bigger and taller players than me,” Castellano said. “That gave me a lot of motivation to become better than them.”
So Castellano became a determined football player. He spent hours in the weight room, becoming stronger. He grew a few inches, put on a few pounds, but never lost a step of his electrifying speed.
“I just didn’t want to have that bully feeling, like the bigger guys could bully me around,” Castellano said. “I wanted to have the feeling that when I stepped onto the field, everyone knew I was there.”
Union City head coach Wilber Valdez admitted that he didn’t pay much attention to Castellano when he first joined the Soaring Eagles’ program.
“He wasn’t a kid that we put our eyes on right away,” Valdez said. “He didn’t stand out. He did not hit the ground running. But during the summer between his freshman and sophomore years, Jonathan worked very hard.”
So much so that when the Soaring Eagles began training camp for the 2012 season, former assistant coach Carlos Perez, the former Hoboken, University of Florida, and Philadelphia Eagles standout receiver, brought Castellano to Valdez’s attention.
“CP said that the kid with the best hands and the one running the best routes was Castellano,” Valdez said. “That meant Castellano had developed quite nicely. As a freshman, he was just a backup role player, but he got very serious in the weight room and it paid off.”
Last year, as a sophomore, Castellano played a big role with the Soaring Eagles, both offensively and defensively. He caught 16 passes, three going for touchdowns. He also had four interceptions as a cornerback.
As the 2013 season began, Valdez knew that he had a very capable two-way player in Castellano.
“We definitely had big plans for him,” Valdez said. “We could line him up as a Wildcat quarterback, a halfback, or a wide receiver. He’s an excellent kid, but he’s a tough football player with speed. We knew he would be a big part of our offense this year. He was going to have plays called for him.”
Last Friday night, Castellano had a monstrous performance against neighboring rival North Bergen.
Castellano had seven carries for an astounding 207 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught two passes for 26 yards, helping the Soaring Eagles to a resounding and somewhat shocking 68-27 victory over North Bergen. There was no one in the world who could have predicted a 40-point blowout win over the Bruins, especially the way the two programs have battled over the last three years. It proved that Union City is deserved of its state ranking, now No. 19 in the entire state.
For his efforts, Castellano has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Valdez said that he knew Castellano was fast, but he had to admit that Castellano’s performance against the Bruins was certainly astonishing.
“We knew he had some speed, but this was where he broke out of his shell,” Valdez said. “I told the kids that good things happen with hard work and Jonathan bought into that. He got a little taste of what it took and ran with it. I’m really not surprised at all, but he did open some eyes.”
Valdez said he was impressed with Castellano’s breakaway speed.
“He turned big plays into great plays,” Valdez said. “He had a 94-yard touchdown run where it looked like the North Bergen cornerback had an angle on him, but Jonathan just pulled away and was 20 yards ahead of the kid in an instant. He had another run that went for 67 yards and a touchdown on a same type of play.”
“As I was running down the sidelines on the first one [the 94-yarder], I figured someone might catch me,” Castellano said. “But I just went full speed, gave all my effort and I was gone. The second touchdown [the 67-yarder] was the same play. I did the same thing.”
After the game was over, Castellano couldn’t believe he surpassed the 200-yard plateau.
“I didn’t think I’d get that much,” Castellano said. “It was very exciting and thrilling. It showed that I am a way better player than I was. I know the game, know what I’m supposed to do by listening to my coaches. I can see the game in a whole other aspect now and I finally proved what I can do.”
Valdez believes that Castellano has the ability to play college football.
“I think he’s a scholarship kid,” Valdez said. “He’s only a junior, but he has next level potential. Maybe he will be a cornerback or a slot receiver on the next level. But he’s very strong and incredibly quick. I think he’s good wherever he plays, but I believe defense is where his future is.”
Added Valdez, “He’s a good kid to coach, because he always wants to get better. Hopefully, this game will inspire him to have more big games like this one.”
A 200-yard game with three touchdowns in a 40-point blowout over the archrival? It’s going to be hard to top that.
“I’m going to give it my all every single game,” Castellano said. “I have to work harder now, knowing people are going to recognize me. It is a little mind blowing, getting a game like this, but if I don’t perform up to that level, people are going to think it was just one game and I was lucky. I worked too hard to have that happen.”
Looks as if Jonathan Castellano is determined to prove he’s no one-hit wonder, even if he didn’t play much as a freshman. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.