|Once special teams whiz, Casillas now face of No. 7 Badgers LBs|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 13 September 2007 13:08|
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -Jonathan Casillas has developed into one of the Badgers' best linebackers, but he solidified his place in Wisconsin history long ago.|
For all the tackles he makes now by crossing the field and all the receivers he covers seamlessly, the junior will always be remembered for one play.
Two years ago, the unknown freshman blocked a punt that was recovered in the end zone with 30 seconds left against rival Minnesota to cap a 10-point comeback in the closing minutes.
Yes, his friends still bring it up.
``It's like, 'Aww, man, you know, I play LINEBACKER. I'm not only a special teams whiz no more,'' Casillas said. ``But it's a great thing. It was one thing that propelled my career and helped us win that game.''
Casillas has a much bigger role now for the No. 7 Badgers along with fellow linebackers Elijah Hodge and DeAndre Levy.
The trio has more responsibility with new safeties starting behind them, and they like the added challenge.
``There's only one person that's going to make a tackle on each play, so we're out there trying to compete, get to the ball before the other ones do,'' Hodge said.
All three play a variety of roles. Levy has lined up at defensive end, while Hodge - the younger brother of injured Packers linebacker Abdul Hodge - has finally been healthy enough to show his speed.
``We've got versatility in our whole defensive scheme,'' Casillas said. ``It works for us.''
But it starts with Casillas, the self-proclaimed family man from New Brunswick, N.J., who was the Badgers' leading returning tackler from last season and is often called into pass coverage.
Lightly recruited, he nearly went to Connecticut instead of Wisconsin because he wanted to stay close to his four siblings and mother.
``I took my visit to UConn before Wisconsin, so I was swaying that way,'' Casillas said. ``I had friends there already, so it was a comfortable decision for me to make, it wasn't like an unknown. But once I took my visit to Wisconsin, I was like, 'Oh, this is it. This is the place for me to be.'''
Casillas, who acknowledges how hard it is to be away, would just assume brag on all his family - his oldest brother just got his mechanical certificate to work on cars and his aunt is a tattoo artist - than talk about his play on the field.
And when he's done with football, he plans on opening a family business with his business degree, even if he doesn't have an idea of what they'll do just yet.
``We don't have the most money in the world,'' he said. ``We're not the richest people, so if I can help them out in any way possible, I'm going to do that.''
Casillas now must help turn around the defense after a shaky start for a unit that was highly touted coming into the season.
Last year, the Badgers allowed 253 yards and 12 points a game. They've given up an average of 17 points and 317 yards so far this season with four new starters.
``The same progression is happening right now with our defense (that) happened a year ago,'' second-year coach Bret Bielema said. ``(We) had new guys starting and guys had to develop things for the first time. We had to find out what their strengths are.''
Their next opponent should give them some extra time. The Citadel - of the Football Championship Subdivision - runs a similar offensive scheme that Wisconsin has seen in previous weeks against Washington State and UNLV.
Casillas said he's making sure his fellow linebackers will be better prepared in the final tuneup before the Big Ten opener against Iowa.
``I don't think we showed up too well the first week, but I think we did a better job the second week. We held them to just a couple of yards rushing, but they passed the ball on us pretty well,'' he said. ``I think a lot of key players, including myself, just need to step up and make those big plays when it comes down to it.''
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