The spread era of college football began a few decades ago, but it wasn’t until the mid 2000s that numerous college programs went full tilt into the spread era. There are passing spread offenses that now Mississippi Head Coach Mike Leach operates, called the Air Raid Offense, and there are more balanced spread offenses such as the one that UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn operates, with a more balanced run and pass mix. For what Coach Malzahn prefers to utilize schematically, there are few signal callers that will be a better fit than Thomas Castellanos.
Playing for Waycross (Ga.) Ware County, the 5’11, 200-pound Castellanos provides the wherewithal to make plays with his feet, his arm, as well as the most important aspect of any quarterback regardless of scheme.
Some quarterbacks possess a million dollar arm and just lack the natural intelligence and/or desire to use that intelligence to make proper reads, consistently throw with technique, and make “the play” that’s crucial to seal a victory. Scouts call this aspect of quarterback play the “it factor” and should be considered one of the most important aspect of playing quarterback.
Castellanos deserves to be defined as the modern spread quarterback. While capable of playing in Coach Leach's offense, he works best when his athleticism can also be a part of the equation, whick would be how UCF will operate.
He’s capable in the pocket to make crucial plays, finds a way to avoid the rush and extend plays before throwing a strike to an open teammate, and will take off and utilize his running like a slot receiver after catching a bubble screen. He will continue to improve the traditional aspects of quarterback play, much of which was focused upon during the Elite 11 Camp in Orlando earlier this year:
(Above video taken by John Garcia of SI All-American)
Defining Castellanos based solely upon his in-the-pocket and traditional-quarterback skills would be foolish. Another way to describe Castellanos’ skills would be to say they are ubiquitous; his skills encompass a sector of each aspect of quarterback play all at once.
He’s far from refined, and that’s something that will be continuously worked upon, but while he’s not the perfect quarterback for Elite 11 competitions or by only a measurement of quarterback marksmanship, he defeats opponents with an array of skills. Here’s a deep dive into what Castellanos does well, what he needs to work on, and how he can make the UCF offense ‘Go!’ once he reaches Orlando, Fla. to play for the Knights.
Working on Technique, Arm Talent is Present
Sometimes Castellanos would toss a pass while backpedaling because he anticipated the rush. During his junior season, he made many off-rhythm passes and that’s a great sign for the future. He is a very talented athlete that finds a way to make plays, and that’s the bottom line as defined above. Here’s an example.
Castellanos made a tremendous touch pass as the below video will show. Was it the best way to accomplish the play? Not really. It would be better to step into the throw. On the flip side, that’s an incredibly adept play that’s going to come in handy when facing big-time college defensive linemen that will certainly require Castellanos to make those throws. Afterall, while it’s great to make on-time rhythm passes, the true test of a signal caller comes from when he makes throws under duress and his feet cannot be set to manufacture the desired passing motion.
This next pass presented just the opposite of the former clip. Castellanos prematurely stepped up in the pocket when he really did not need to do so, but delivered a strike down the middle for a touchdown. Hey, sometimes a person just needs to tip the cap when a great pass comes about. Additionally, that pass was a strike and it came with zip! Castellanos possesses plenty of arm strength. Watch his feet on this clip. While not set, he still drilled the football to his receiver. That’s pure talent.
Continuing with the theme of arm strength, Castellanos took a deep drop while turning his back to the line of scrimmage, turned back around to see the receivers, set his feet, then planted his feet and ripped a throw on a deep out pass.
Not only did he throw a bullet, the football hit the receiver’s hands chest high right before he stepped out of bounds. This play defined a NFL throw by Castellanos, and might be the best overall play -- timing, rhythm, arm strength and accuracy -- that he made during the 2020 season.
Let’s Play Ball!
Some players make plays and a defensive coordinator just throws his hands in the air to say, “What else can we do?” The following video provides angst for many a defensive coordinator. Watch Castellanos be chased out of the pocket and make an off-balance pass to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. That’s a ball player!
Another way Castellanos beat defenses came from when he used his feet to keep a play alive prior to even attempting to throw the football. While rolling left, watch Castellanos zip another pass for a completion. Athleticism and quarterback skills combined for a big gain.
Being a Contentious Signal Caller
The final pass will be the most pedestrian, but it’s also one of the most important. Far too often a quarterback drills a pass to a wide open receiver. The result, well, a poorly thrown football that should have been a huge gain. Just throw a catchable pass. That’s it. Castellanos made a heady decision on how to throw this pass.
While it was a simple pass, the play above describes why Castellanos was defined as an intelligent quarterback. Just do what’s needed, and nothing more. Make “the play” when needed, sure, but the above clip and Castellanos’s play overall define a player that makes his teammates better. That’s how a signal caller should be defined and so far he’s on the proper track.
Castellanos Provides the Skills to Win Big for the Knights
A bona fide dual-threat signal caller with arm talent to make all the throws, Castellanos will walk into the UCF Football program as a fit for Coach Malzahn’s offense. He will operate the power-spread with the intelligence to know how and when to simply keep pounding the football with the running game as well as know when to let his arm make the plays. He’s the definition of the modern spread quarterback because he adapts play by play. With that, know that Castellanos still provides plenty of room to improve, and UCF will be better for it.
What will be interesting is seeing how quickly he picks up all the intricacies of the offense -- checks, formations, setting the line protection, etc. -- to aid him in becoming the Knights’ starting quarterback sooner than later. He’s a really smart young man so it’s only a matter of time. The last area to discuss regarding his college career would be how Castellanos adjusts to the college game.
He out-talented quite a few players during his junior year of high school. That’s common with an elite high school football player. Once in college, making a poor decision as to when and where to step up or run out of the pocket often leads to missed reads, sacks, and turnovers. Basically, whether a quarterback continuously makes good decisions is the difference between winning and losing.
Experience matters, and Castellanos will need to be tutored under the direction of the UCF coaching staff just like any other signal caller would be prior to taking over the reins to the offense in Orlando. Despite the need for future guidance, he provides all the skills a coaching staff seeks to be the leader of the offense. Remember, intelligence separates the truly big-time quarterbacks from the signal callers that just possess a powerful arm. Castellanos possesses both qualities. Castellanos has arm talent, exceptional athleticism, knows when to throw bullets or loft a pass to a teammate, and makes special plays that cannot be taught.
UCF Football fans should be very excited about Castellanos coming to play for the Knights. He’s a difference-maker and will provide many exciting plays and victories for the UCF Football program. The Knights are fortunate to have him in the class of 2022 and he will help UCF during its ascension into the upper levels of college football’s hierarchy.