The562’s coverage of football in 2023-24 is sponsored in part by the MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center Foundation and Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital Foundation.
The562’s coverage of Lakewood Athletics is sponsored by J.P. Crawford, Class of 2013.
Kade Casillas will get your attention, whether you like it or not.
Lakewood’s sophomore quarterback routinely repairs broken plays with his natural athletic ability while his naturally long curly hair flows out the back of his helmet. And he’s not afraid to talk some trash along the way.
“His talking can be taken the wrong way as cockiness, but it’s not that, it’s his passion,” said his dad Dano, who is also a Lakewood assistant coach. “He’s very passionate about everything he does.”
Lakewood hopes that passion produces playoff success as the Lancers embark on their CIF Southern Section Division 7 postseason journey which starts Friday night at King High in Riverside.
“I just like running around and throwing the ball,” Casillas said. “That’s fun. I try to keep a full field of vision (while scrambling) and even when I’m rolling out I have to see who is coming behind me and who is in front of me.”
The 5’11” 180-pound Casillas has produced a handful of highlight plays by emulating his favorite quarterback Baker Mayfield. That freewheeling, gunslinging approach is perfect for a dual-threat signal caller with Casillas’ attitude, and he’s got the statistics to prove it.
Casillas has thrown for 2,042 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore while completing 70 percent of his passes. That all contributes to a quarterback rating of 117.8, according to MaxPreps. Casillas is also averaging 9.5 yards per rushing attempt.
“The game is starting to slow down for him,” Lakewood coach Justin Utupo said of Casillas. “He’s taking the offense under his command and control with more poise… But he’s such a special talent, so we love his movement in the pocket and ability to make plays. He has that run threat but still looks down the field because he’s got a big, strong arm for a sophomore.”
Utupo is even letting his young signal caller change the play at the line of scrimmage when necessary.
“When he does that he knows exactly what he’s doing,” Lakewood tight end Caleb Tafua said of Casillas. “We trust him.”
Casillas’ accomplishments are even more impressive considering that this is only his second full season playing quarterback.
Growing up in Lakewood, Casillas considered himself a baseball player who also played some football. His speed made him a great outfielder and contact hitter, but his rambunctious nature fit better as a football defender.
“When he was about 8 or so, we were at his godfather’s house on New Year’s Eve when (Kade) ran into a sliding glass door,” Dano recalled. “He literally just stood there as it was shattering right in front of him. Just unfazed. But that’s Kade.”
Casillas’ first memories of football are running around in multiple defensive positions for Lakewood Pop Warner. It wasn’t until his eighth grade year, when Dano was his coach, that Casillas started playing quarterback. Dano didn’t want people to think it was a “Daddy ball situation, but he gave us our best chance of winning.”
Although he found success as a signal caller that year, Casillas was still focused on baseball. Even when he was riding his bike to the local YMCA to work out and shed some weight he gained during the COVID shutdowns, it was with baseball on the mind.
Everything changed when Casillas came to Lakewood where his older brother, Jace, was entering his senior year. The brothers have always been competitive with each other, but their relationship was great during that offseason together.
“Watching him play that year, I really looked up to him, and it was really inspiring,” Casillas said. “And the coaches noticed that I had potential during freshman football. But I was just having fun, it was like backyard football all over again.”
Casillas was also inspired by his mom, Candy, getting inducted into the El Camino College Hall of Fame last year. She played and coached softball at El Camino.
“I like to say Kade got his skills from his mama,” Candy said. “Especially his speed, because I was fast back in the day.”
“Seeing her name on the wall gave me inspiration to keep going,” Casillas added. “That’s something that’s helped me get through stuff.”
The road to becoming the starting quarterback was challenging for Casillas because he had to fight all offseason to win the job.
“That’s made him feel like everyday he has to prove himself,” Candy said. “But people just need to believe in him. We’re going to be so good if we all can stick together.”
It was especially difficult to maintain unity last month in a Moore League rivalry game at Millikan when Casillas had what he called, “The worst game of football in my life.”
Casillas was running for his life all night against the Rams while only completing nine of his 19 pass attempts and throwing four interceptions. Millikan won 43-0 and afterwards Casillas kept to himself, which is not at all his personality.
“I don’t know what was going on, if it was the rivalry or not, but I was for sure in that dark place,” Casillas said. “After the game I tried to keep to myself. When I got home the first thing I did was watch film and watch my mistakes. I watched that for a couple days. I was in my head a little bit, but the next game I bounced back.”
Not only did Casillas rebound for arguably his best performance of the year against Wilson, he did it by being himself. It started that week when he got to joke around with and talk trash to his Psychology teacher, Scott Meyer, who is also the head football coach at Wilson. Casillas then went out and played with the freedom he thrives on while leading the Lancers to a 41-27 win that clinched them a playoff spot.
One play in particular caught everyone’s attention and showed what kind of quarterback Casillas can be when properly motivated.
Early in the Wilson game with the ball near midfield, Casillas ran right out of the pocket to buy time on a designed pass play. With a defender nipping at his heels, Casillas perfectly timed a leap forward to avoid the tackle. While still off balance and running full speed, he chucked a ball to receiver Cecil Xavier Smith at the goal line for a touchdown. His momentum carried him into the Wilson sideline, but instead of taunting his opponents, Casillas ran right back onto the field screaming, “Oh my god,” with pure jubilation.
“I was thinking about the guy behind me, and I didn’t see Cecil downfield until after the jump, but when I saw him I just let it go,” Casillas said of his spur of the moment decision making. “It turns my energy up when I see my teammates getting hyped about a throw I make or a play I make.”
Obviously, plays like that are only accentuated by the long, luscious blonde locks that can’t be contained by Casillas’ helmet. Some opponents are learning that you can’t stop the mop.
“I’ve had long hair since I was 3 and I’ve never gotten an actual haircut,” Casillas said. “Every time I want to cut my hair I get in the (barber) seat and I’ll just get too scared to let it go. People notice me because of my hair. I like that. But showering and doing my hair takes like 30-40 minutes.”
“And he goes through a bottle of conditioner a week,” Candy added.
Everything about the Casillas persona makes sense, especially his competitive chatter that comes along with every thrilling play.
“He’s going to get excited and he’s going to talk,” Dano said. “That’s just him. You want to keep it controlled, but you don’t want to handcuff him though. Let him be him, don’t try to change him. People feed off of his energy, and he feeds off that energy, and it builds his confidence.”
Utupo said it’s been a huge boost for his program to have Dano Casillas coaching the Lakewood running backs while his son is evolving into a team-leading quarterback.
“Coach Dano does a great job drawing a line between being a father and a coach,” Utupo said. “We can say one thing to Kade and we know coach Dano has his own version of getting the message across to Kade at home. And when Kade was battling for the starting spot, coach Dano didn’t show any favoritism because he’s a team player who wants the best guys out there… I think Kade’s leadership has started to grow and part of that is because his father is in the program.”
Dano knows that being able to coach his sons throughout their football careers is a special gift that he doesn’t want to take for granted.
“I get caught up watching (Kade during games) and I’m amazed sometimes, to be completely honest,” Dano said. “He’s that spark plug for us, and I’m not just saying that because he’s my son… it’s like, “Ok, what’s he going to do next?’”