Curt Casteel makes his first varsity start for three-time Florida state champion St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale) on Friday night. On national television as part of the GEICO ESPN High School Kickoff. Against St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.), another national powerhouse that is the defending CIF Open Division champion.
Nothing like easing into the role, huh?
Casteel says he’s prepared for the job, in part because of lessons he learned from Jake Allen, the former Aquinas QB who is now a freshman at the University of Florida.
“Jake really took me under his wing last year,” Casteel, a 6-2 junior, told USA TODAY High School Sports. “I think the most important thing he taught me was just to be ready to perform when your name was called.”
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Ask Allen about Casteel, and he gushes.
“Curt is a stud,” Allen said. “I’m Curt’s biggest fan. Curt is a true student of the game and will do whatever it takes to be successful.”
Aquinas, ranked No. 5 in the Super 25, hosts St. John Bosco, ranked No. 3, on Friday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
Casteel, ranked as No. 12 pro style quarterback in Class of 2019 by the 247Sports Composite, might not have been in this position even a few weeks ago. Senior Beau Fillichio, who had been competing with Casteel for the starting job, injured his throwing arm in early August. Fillichio appeared in eight games last season and 10 two seasons ago as Allen’s backup.
Casteel dressed with the varsity for a few games but was the junior varsity quarterback.
“I haven’t noticed much of a change,” he said. “I’m handling it well. It’s a blessing to be in this position.”
Allen, for one, believes Casteel is ready. He said he will be watching from Gainesville.
“He’s worked his butt of this past year to be in the situation he’s in now,” Allen said. “He’s going to take the deer by the reins and help the team be successful. I think he’s grown mentally more than anything and that’s all about playing the quarterback position.”
John Congemi, who will call the game for ESPNU, said the key for Casteel is not trying to do too much and just do his job.
“He’s coming in with a lot of expectations,” Congemi said. “I’m not so sure he was supposed to be the starting quarterback, but due to an injury, he’s going to have to be the guy.”
Casteel won’t go unchallenged. In Bosco, Aquinas faces a strong defensive team that opened last season with back-to-back shutouts and allowed 20 points or less to nine of its 15 opponents.
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Much of the defensive focus for Bosco is on its secondary, with players loaded with college offers. That group is lead by Jaiden Woodbey, a four-star safety who is committed to Ohio State. He is ranked as the No. 2 safety by ESPN and the No. 65 player overall.
Safety Stephan Blaylock is a UCLA commit who is ranked No. 23 in the nation at the position and junior Chris Steele is ranked as the No. 2 cornerback in the Class of 2019 and has 27 reported offers. Corner Level Price Jr. is ranked as a three-star prospect.
“You have to worry about protecting the football,” Congemi said. “With Woodbey and Blaylock and Steele and Price, they’ve got a lot of terrific players. Woodbey has size and is a versatile player. He can play close to the line to stop the run and he can be the centerfielder. Blaylock is a guy who flashes and is very quick out of the safety position. You have some interchangeable parts.
“I think that’s going to give St. Thomas a bit of a headache trying to run the football because you have that extra guy at the line of scrimmage.”
In last week’s kickoff classic – a 39-0 victory against Dillard – the Aquinas offense exhibited some early season jitters. On the first series, the Raiders fumbled three times, although they recovered all of them and eventually scored on a 43-yard pass from Casteel to Virginia commit Tavares Kelly. Two of those fumbles were on the quarterback-center exchange.
“We work snaps every day before practice, so we shouldn’t have any problems like that this week,” Casteel said. “We just need to go out there and execute.
“The mood has been good this week. Everyone is really excited to play.”