By Jerry Del Priore
New York Giants linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas knows what it’s like to battle adversity—from a less-than-perfect childhood to being undrafted, he’s been through his fare share of hardships.
That’s why he works so hard on and off the gridiron in order to give back to the less fortunate, especially the children in his New Jersey community and surrounding areas.
One of ten children who lived through some lean years as a kid, Casillas dedicates his time to several philanthropic causes, such as his Forward Progress Football and Life Skills Camp in his hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Each year, the camp serves over 200 youth, grades sixth to twelfth, bestowing them with athletic and life skills, including healthy living/abstaining from drugs and alcohol education, positive versus negative uses of social media, the NCAA and college processes, and much more.
Casillas employs his family’s solid work ethic when it comes to inspiring himself toward achieving goals, and the love for his daughter, Jade, to helping others in need, setting a positive example for her and everyone else around him to follow.
“I’ve always been motivated by family; my mom is a hard worker,” the six-foot-one, 227-pound affable 29-year-old explained at the 2017 Dream, Reach, Inspire event at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights, Brooklyn. “By the age of 24 she had three kids, and was on welfare. She never stopped until she got out of that situation.”
In addition, Casillas said, “Everything I do now is for my daughter; she’s five years old. I try to do everything (football and community-wise), and put on a good impression for not only myself and my team, but also for my family. That kind of translates over to the reasons why I do my community work.”
After a stellar football collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin, Casillas waited eagerly, expecting a team to call his name anywhere between the third and fifth rounds of the 2009 NFL draft.
Due to knee surgery that forced him to miss most of NFL combine, that never occurred. All 32 teams passed him up.
A man who admittedly doesn’t display much emotion, Casillas went up to his room to cry.
But the New Orleans Saints wound up inking him to a contract, in which he said his bonus was a mere $27,000, which pales in comparison to what some other players receive.
“Draft day was tough,” Casillas said. “It’s was very humbling, and very inspiring. And since that day on I have had a big chip on my shoulder. I still play with it. Two Super Bowl rings later and eight years plus now, everything is good.”
In his rookie year, Casillas was a man on a mission to take the jobs of incumbent Saint linebackers and any other players standing in his way of making a football impact
The young upstart played in 11 games that season, and was officially credited with recovering a third-quarter onside kick, helping the Saints defeat the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV in 2010.
Casillas captured his second Super Bowl ring when the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks, 28–24, in Super Bowl XLIX.
However, the Jersey City native and New Brunswick High School graduate remains grounded and humble, ready to lend a hand to any worthy cause if available.
“To do things like this, it’s definitely an honor to be asked to be a part of this,” Casillas said of sharing his story with the show’s audience. “I’m going to continue to make myself a positive role model and cement my legacy here in New York.”