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LI kids meet New York Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas

Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas with Kidsday reporters, from

Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas with Kidsday reporters, from left, Amber Pawloski, Gioia Racanelli, Benjamin Handler and Joely Pepe at the Giants training center in New Jersey. Credit: Newsday / Pat Mullooly

We met Giants linebacker Jonathan Casillas after a recent practice at the Giants training center in New Jersey. Jonathan has already won two Super Bowls, one with the New Orleans Saints and another with the New England Patriots, and we hope he can bring his good luck to the Giants.

You grew up in New Jersey. What does it feel like to be back here and playing in front of your hometown crowd?

It is like a dream come true. As kids you always want to play in front of your family, especially in high school and college. I am blessed that I have a 5-year-old and she comes to every game. My family is always at the games — I have 20-plus people here at every game. It is not cheap, but at the same time it is so enjoyable to look in the stands and to see so many people that I know and love.

How old were you when you started playing football, and why were you inspired to play football?

I was 14 and a freshman in high school. The reason why was I used to watch it a lot, and all my friends played football. I was a basketball player and really good at basketball, but all of my friends played football. My friend was Andre Dixon and he was a running back for the University of Wisconsin and he was my best friend and every day he would go to football practice, and I just wanted to play with my boys.

You played for the New England Patriots. Do you hate them now?

[Laughs.] I can’t hate the Patriots. I don’t like them when it comes to playing them, but I definitely don’t hate them. I was a part of that locker room, and I think Bill Belichick is a great coach, [quarterback] Tom Brady is such a great guy — he doesn’t always get good press, but I think most people either love him or hate him along with the Patriots and as an NFL fan in general. But I am not in that realm, because I played for them. At one point those were my guys. I still know a lot of guys there, and I definitely appreciate the organization and all the players there.

You have won two Super Bowls. Do you think your experience will help the Giants win one this year?

Definitely. Last year I was hoping it did against Green Bay, but we came up way too short — we were blown out in the first round of the playoffs. Now we have guys with playoff experience and football experience, and hopefully that will all come in to help us during the season and in the postseason as well.

Did you ever regret becoming a football player?

I never regret playing football, but sometimes I think that this game is tough! I look at my hands and I look at how messed up my fingers are, and I sometimes think: “Wow, I am really playing football.” People look at my hands and just say “Ewww!” If I didn’t play football, I probably would have kept on playing basketball. Hopefully I would have made it to D1 [NCAA Division I] and gotten a scholarship and made it to the NBA.

Do you have a nickname?

Everybody calls me JC. If you have known me for a long time, you would know that my nickname is Jay. I also named my daughter, Jade, after me.

Do you like to play practical jokes on your teammates?

Sometimes. I am not a big practical joker. JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul] is big practical joker, and Odell [Beckham Jr.] is one, too.

In your opinion, what makes a great coach, and who was the best coach you have played for?

You know what? [Tom] Coughlin was such a great coach. He had such a great tradition here. I think [Ben] McAdoo is doing such a great job. He went 11 and 5 last year and took us to the playoffs. I think he did a phenomenal job. I did play for Bill Belichick, and he does take his team to the Super Bowl what seems like every year. It is kind of hard to say that anyone that I have played for is a better coach than him, given his record and how many Super Bowls he has won. It is kind of hard to go against him, but McAdoo is doing a great job.

Do you have any pregame superstitions?

I am probably the least superstitious person on the team. But when I was in high school and I weighed like 165, I was a small guy. We used to do push-ups to make our arms look bigger in the uniforms. We would do 50 before the game. I still do 50 push-ups before every game. I have to do 50 push-ups before every game. I am not too superstitious, but it is like a ritual. And if I don’t do it, it kind of throws me off a little bit. I don’t do it to make my arms look bigger, but I have been doing it for 15 years now.

What was your college major, and will you be using it after you retire?

At first I was doing computer engineering, and I thought I was a smart kid at one time. Then I got to college and realized it is difficult. I ended up changing my major to business management, and I think it pertained more to something I would get into. I think I will be using business management when I get out of football.

How many days does it take your body to recover after a game?

As the season progresses, it takes longer and longer. I just turned 30 — I am not a spring chicken anymore. My body doesn’t recover as fast as the young guys do. I do have a routine that I use off the field. I try to get as much sleep as possible, I use the hot and cold tubs as much as possible and ice my knees to get ready. Toward the end of the season it might take me five or six days to get back.

What is the most successful trait to a team?

Great question. I think continuity. I think we are like a band of brothers, and at the end of the day if there is a weak link, this is the greatest team sport ever created, and you go as well as your weakest link. There are teams out there that exploit the weak links on your team. You have to have your guys around you, and you have to be a unit to get through these long games.

Why did you choose number 52?

I wore number 2 in college. I was undrafted to New Orleans way back when, and [coach] Sean Payton asked me what number I wanted, and I told him 52. But he didn’t give me 52, he gave me 62, and it was not a good-looking number for a linebacker. But I ended up working my way to making the roster as an undrafted free agent, and I wore number 2 and really wanted 52. Jason Kyle was a long snapper, and when I found out that they were going to keep me, I asked him if I could trade numbers with me. Ever since then, I have had number 52. The one year I was here, John Beason — who was in his ninth year in the league and he was the captain — I didn’t have enough in me to ask him for his number.

What is your typical athlete’s breakfast?

It depends. Don’t take after me. If I am one of the last guys getting to the meeting, it is a quick sandwich, and then I run to the meeting room. If I have time, I have some pancakes, egg whites, some bacon and sausage. I will just try to hit on all the food groups and drink lots of water as well.

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