Born: June 3, 1987
Towns: Jersey City & New Brunswick
Jonathan Casillas was born June 3, 1987 in Jersey City to Luz Casillas and Eric Gordon. Jonathan’s father was better known on the JC playgrounds as Flash (he actually changed his name legally). Flash was an AAU basketball legend and later a trick-shot artist. Jonathan was big for his age and he learned how to apply his size and strength to sports from his father. From Luz, he learned perseverance. She raised Jonathan and his two siblings as a single mom, working multiple jobs until she earned her nursing degree and moved the family south to New Bruncswick.
There Jonathan switched from basketball to football, suiting up (against his mother’s wishes) for the first time in his life for the New Brunswick High Zebras. Teammates Dwayne Jarrett and Andre Dixon made most of the headlines, but Jonathan’s play at linebacker drew plenty of college scouts, too. He was usually the fastest player on the field. Indeed, as a member of the track team he set a Middlesex County record in the 100 meters and once blew Knowshown Moreno off the track in a meet his senior year. New Brunswick won a state football title his junior year. He hoped that Rutgers would offer a scholarship. Coach John Quinn implored Greg Schiano to take Jonathan, but he was reluctant and by the time the scholarship offer came he had already decided to play for the University of Wisconsin. Later, Schiano said it was one of the biggest recruiting mistakes he made.
Jonathan obviously had the speedof a safety but lacked the size of a Big 10 linebacker. He hit the weight room with a vengeance as a freshman, but also made huge plays on special teams (including a legendary blocked punt against Minnesota). Jonathan became a starter as a sophomore in 2006. The team went 12–1, finishing #7 in the national rankings. The Badgers had winning records in 2007 and 2008, and Jonathan was recognized as a leader of the Wisconsin defense despite missing some games as a senior. A knee injury concerns contributed to the feeling among NFL teams that he might not cut it in the pros and he went undrafted.
Jonathan was invited to camp by the New Orleans Saints and made the team on the strength of his special teams play. As a rookie, he saw action in 11 games in 2009, including two starts at linebacker. As luck would have it, the Saints made it to their first Super Bowl and beat the Colts 31–17. The game turned on a surprise onside kick to start the second half. Jonathan was the man on the ball when they pulled all the players off the pile.
After two more seasons with the Saints, Jonathan joined the Buccaneers—coached by Schiano—in 2013 and was traded to the New England Patriots during the 2014 seasons. Jonathan got into eight games with the Pats, who won the AFC East with a 12–4 record. They defeated the Ravens and Colts in the playoffs and beat the Seahawks 28–24 in the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX. Jonathan started the game for New England along with Akeem Ayers, Chris White and Darius Fleming in a four-linebacker set.
After the Super Bowl, Jonathan was a free agent. Already recognized as a superior special teams player and passing-down linebacker, he wanted to prove he could be an every-down difference maker. He came home to the Giants on a three-year $10.5 million contract and was an impact player, with 80 tackles and his first NFL interception—a pick against the Eagles on the final day of the season. In 2016, Jonathan was a fulltime starter for the first time and was named a team captain. He recorded a career-high 92 tackles as the Giants went 11–5 and made the playoffs—but got wiped out in the Wild Card game by the Packers. Jonathan played well in the loss with seven tackles.
Jonathan started the first eight games of 2017 before being sidelined by a neck injury. He retired in 2018 and began focusing on his community outreach efforts, including the Forward Progress football camp in his hometown of New Brunswick. Jonathan has also been a vocal proponent of cannabis to treat pain and injuries, as opposed to addictive opioids, and is now in the CBD business. His flagship product, Jade’s Garden (named after his daughter) contains no THC.