Fueled by the memory of his late brother, Thomas Castellanos has blossomed into a star for BC

College Sports

Barry Chin/Globe Staff
Thomas Castellanos leads all FBS quarterbacks in the nation in rushing with 628 yards.

Two days after Christmas in 2021, right before he ventured to college, Thomas Castellanos tragically lost his oldest brother, Akeem Jones.

Castellanos, the eighth of 11 children in a single-parent household in Waycross, Ga., tried to forge on, but an unfamiliar feeling of emptiness weighed him down.

“He was like the head of the snake,” Castellanos said. “It’s almost like the head getting chopped off when he passed away. It weakened me. Mentally, I was confused, and I was lost.”

Castellanos contemplated quitting football, but the lessons Jones taught him helped him stay afloat. He recalled their frequent 2:30 a.m. phone conversations, and how Jones — a onetime quarterback at Garden City Community College in Kansas — always believed in him even when others didn’t.

He realized he owed it to both of them to follow through on the dream to star at a Power Five school. Now, Castellanos, a transfer from Central Florida, is delivering on that promise for Boston College. The slippery, scintillating sophomore, who leads all quarterbacks in the nation with 628 rushing yards, is the head of the snake for an Eagles team on the rise.

BC (4-3), which welcomes UConn (1-6) to town this Saturday, is playing its best football since the start of the 2021 season. As the Eagles try to avenge last year’s demoralizing loss to the Huskies, and make a push in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Castellanos is at the crux of that resurgence.

“We’re turning this thing around,” Castellanos said. “Boston is back. Boston College football is back. We’re no longer the laughingstock of college football or the ACC. We’re back, and we’re rolling.”

Born in Miami, Castellanos moved to south Georgia as a toddler. His father died when he was 3. His mother worked as a nurse to ensure her children never missed a meal. He reveres her to this day for her strength and independence.

“I’m very thankful for her,” Castellanos said. “She’s the reason why I am who I am today.”

Castellanos was always a big kid, and he started playing right guard around age 5. But when his brother LeDedrick got all the love and glory as a quarterback, Castellanos yearned for a taste himself.

His talent was obvious, and schools such as Georgia and Miami showed interest when he was in middle school. He dazzled at quarterback and middle linebacker.

He accounted for more than 11,000 yards in high school and received offers from schools such as Kansas, Coastal Carolina, and Akron. He toured UCF with Jones, who insisted his baby brother had Alabama talent and reminded him to dream big.

When Jones died, Castellanos questioned his faith, wondering why God would let this happen.

“I was trying to keep going,” Castellanos said, “but it was a big struggle.”

Losing his brother helped him realize how fragile and dark life can be. He went to church, found himself, and prayed to his brother, then re-emerged and entered the transfer portal.

Castellanos, who had seen limited action in five games at UCF, received more than 20 offers. BC coach Jeff Hafley remembers watching film, smiling, and thinking, “Yeah, this kid’s dynamic.”

The 5-foot-10-inch, 196-pound Castellanos trusted his gut and committed to BC in April 2023. When he arrived on campus, in Boston for the first time, his mind started racing.

“I remember asking myself and questioning myself over again,” Castellanos said. “ ‘What the hell was I thinking by coming to Boston?’ I never thought of or imagined myself being here. It was kind of crazy for me.

“I’m not going to lie; the first week or two, I cried. I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’ ”

Some days in camp, Castellanos felt as though quarterback was an open competition. Other days, it seemed Emmett Morehead had locked up the starting job.

His 11-month-old French bulldog, Ghost — whom he endearingly refers to as his “son” —helped get him through another dark time.

“Dogs always have that thing about them, man,” Castellanos said. “When they know you’re having a bad day, or you’re sad, they kind of just curl up on you and make you rub on them. They make you feel better.”

He decided to embrace whatever came his way and focus on helping the team however he could, even if a piece of him initially second-guessed his decision.

In the preseason, Castellanos clairvoyantly described himself as a “game-changer” who makes things happen when they’re not supposed to.

“Every now and then,” he said, “I make the crowd go, ‘Ohhh!’ You know what I’m saying? ‘That was crazy. I wasn’t expecting that to happen.’ Wild plays, I feel like I have in my bag.”

Castellanos wasn’t exaggerating. In the opener against Northern Illinois, he swerved around like a Zamboni and converted a highly improbable fourth and 5. He started the next week and hasn’t looked back.

Castellanos has spearheaded comeback wins over Virginia, Army, and Georgia Tech. The Georgia Tech triumph was particularly gratifying, as he pieced together an ACC Co-Quarterback of the Week performance in front of more than 100 personal supporters.

“He’s just getting better and better,” Hafley said. “He doesn’t get rattled. The guys believe in him.”

As much as he’s already accomplished, he’s only a sophomore and is still discovering who he is. This BC team is in a similar spot — on the rise and starting to unlock its potential — with Castellanos as an anchor.

His heart will always ache with his brother gone, but game by game, he’s beginning to rediscover his purpose.

“Now, I’m doing what I dreamed of doing,” Castellanos said. “Now, I am who I dreamed of being.”


Originally posted 2023-10-27 13:30:00.