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Automatic for the Gators

By Barry Every
SouthernPigskin.com
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One dynamic athlete Ware County's coach will be counting on in this murderer’s row of Region opponents is junior signal caller Thomas Castellanos.

In Coach Jason Strickland’s first year at Waycross (Ga.) Ware County he led his squad to an (8-4) mark. More importantly he guided the Gators to their first Region Championship since 2016, sweeping all four Region foes.

Things may be a little harder this coming season with the GHSA realignment. The Gators move to Region 1-AAAAA which includes Douglas (Ga.) Coffee, Kathleen (Ga.) Veterans, Jesup (Ga.) Wayne County and Warner Robins (Ga.). Veterans, Ware County and Wayne County all went two-deep in the playoffs last year. Coffee went to the GHSA-AAAAAA Quarterfinals and Warner Robins played in the AAAAA State Championship Game.

One dynamic athlete Coach Strickland will be counting on in this murderer’s row of Region opponents is junior signal caller Thomas Castellanos. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound dual-threat quarterback has already lit it up at the varsity level both as a freshman and a sophomore. His season totals read like video game numbers as Castellanos has completed 161 passes on 309 attempts for 2,216 yards. He has rushed for 1,774 yards and accounted for a whopping 50 touchdowns. Yes, he is just going to be a junior.

His stellar play has not gone unnoticed as he was been named First Team All-Region as a freshman and earned Region 2-AAAAA Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore. Castellanos was also recognized by the AJC as Honorable Mention All-State.

“This is a kid that just loves having fun; he makes practice fun for all for us,” Strickland said. “He’s a bit of a cutup that does things to break up the monotony of the grind. As a player he made great strides this year. He is just scratching the surface of the caliber of player that he will become one day. Thomas also understands how to get the most out of his teammates”

Castellanos happens to be a three-sport star as he has been a starting shooting guard on the Gator Basketball Team the last two seasons. This past year he averaged double digit points. He is also quite the nifty athlete on the pitch. Though his sophomore soccer season was cut short due to the Coronavirus, Castellanos still managed six goals.

Somehow he still maintains a 3.0 GPA and plans on taking the test during his junior year. In the weight room his maxes are 235-pounds on the bench, 315-pounds on the back squat and a 275-pound power clean.

“As Thomas goes we go, if he plays well others around him play well as he is our lightning bolt,” Strickland said. “We have him keeping his emotions in check even when things don’t go as planned. During the season his development came along so well that we gave him almost complete autonomy of the offense. Versus Wayne County we called just one pass play; Thomas made the right check and got us into some good plays and obviously we threw the ball more than once in that victory.”

On the recruiting front, Castellanos holds offers from Akron, Georgia Tech, Kansas and Morehouse. He is also receiving strong interest from Florida State, Miami, South Carolina and Wake Forest. One school he admits he would like to hear from is Clemson.

“I prefer to play quarterback in college, but I’m also an athlete and I’ll do whatever it takes to make it in college football,” Castellanos said. “I know Florida and Georgia are looking at me as an athlete but I’m pretty sure Wake Forest likes me at quarterback.”

Last year Castellanos attended camps at Florida and Georgia with hopes to compete this summer at South Carolina, Wake Forest and maybe Florida, again. He also made unofficial visits to see Florida State, Georgia and Miami during the season.

“He eventually has to make a decision on what he wants to do at the level,” Strickland said. “Does he want to be a quarterback or does he want to play on the biggest stage in the biggest conference? There are a lot of schools he could play quarterback for at the DI level. He could also play defensive back, slot receiver or running back at the highest level. I mean this kid is just a great athlete, you should see him play soccer.”

Castellanos is focused on the season and understands that the new five-team region Ware County competes in will be difficult to win. It’s very possible that the team left out of the playoffs could end the season (7-3).

“We’re going to have to work hard this offseason and we are putting in a new offensive scheme,” Castellanos said. “It’s going to be a tough Region and we are going to have to put up some serious points to win games. My teammates know that when it’s crunch time I’ll get the first down or the touchdown. They also know that I like to spread the ball around.”

Castellanos may be a one man show at times, but he knows it takes everyone on the team to win games. The Gators are returning several key pieces, most importantly some experienced pass catchers.

“I have to work on my timing with the receivers and simply trust them,” Castellanos said. “Seniors Jaylen Melvin and Brandon Mills along with rising junior James Daniels helped out a lot last year. So it’s great having guys I can count on.”

If you have never seen Castellanos in action, do so this season. The best way to describe him is a muscular running back with a rifle arm. A friend of mine that coaches an opposing school felt Castellanos reminded him of former Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes star Michael Barrett. The biggest difference is the fact that Barrett didn’t start at quarterback till his junior year. This will be Castellanos third season as a starter and he is just a junior.