Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

‘Dependable’ Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda is Making the Most of His Second Chance

April 11, 2023

In his Nebraska debut last season, New Mexico State transfer Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda caught four passes for 120 yards and a touchdown.

Over the next three weeks, he caught just one pass for zero yards. He decided to shut it down for the season after that, using the 2022 season as a redshirt year, and entered the transfer portal (which opened to Nebraska players for 30 days after the firing of Scott Frost).

Five months later, Garcia-Castaneda is back on the practice field in a Husker uniform, taking advantage of a second chance Coach Matt Rhule and the new staff offered to him.

“I never wanted to leave in the first place, to be honest with you,” Garcia-Castaneda said on Tuesday. “I didn’t expect last year to go the way it did, necessarily. So I just felt like it’s almost like a fresh start, for me, for everybody on the team, coaches, players. So I was fortunate enough to be able to be given an opportunity again and just come show what I can do with the new staff and everything.” 

Garcia-Castaneda said a variety of factors led to his decision to redshirt, but ultimately, as he thought about his goal of playing at the next level he determined saving the year of eligibility rather than continuing along the same path was the right move for him. 

“I don’t really like to talk about it too much,” Garcia-Castaneda said. “I think last year was last year, a lot of things were kind of all over the place in every aspect of the team. So I just think it was, at the time, in my best interest. I’m not mad at myself for deciding to enter the portal when I did because I felt at that time it was the best thing for me, but I’m very thankful to be here again. I think everything kind of happened for a reason.”

Garcia-Castaneda said he received some interest from other schools after entering his name into the portal, though him being a second-time transfer slowed down the process. In the meantime, he continued going to class, though he had to adjust to life without football for a time. No games, no practice, no training table.

“I guess I got to be somewhat of a regular student for a second,” Garcia-Castaneda said. “So it was really weird, just the whole routine to just change like that in an instant and go from being up every day on a team and then all of a sudden you’re not. It was a little bit weird to get adjusted to, but I just had to keep my head down, keep hoping for the best and praying for the best.”

After Nebraska introduced Matt Rhule as its new football coach, Garcia-Castaneda reached out to the new staff to see if there was any room for him to rejoin the team.

“I was able to talk to Coach [Marcus] Satterfield and Coach [Garret] McGuire as well,” Garcia-Castaneda said. “They let me just say what I had to say and explain my situation from my perspective of things. They watched my film and they contacted me a little bit later and allowed me to come back on team. So I was fortunate enough to be back where I am now and I thank Coach Rhule and Coach Satt and everybody on the staff for giving me an opportunity and just allowing me to come in with a fresh start.” 

Garcia-Castaneda said the coaches got back to him two or three weeks after he reached out to share the good news and welcome him back to the program. He said the waiting period was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to go through.

Now that he’s back, Garcia-Castaneda said he’s “super motivated” and “super happy to be back,” though the first week back on the practice field was pretty rough as he worked off the rust.

“Football this semester has been really fun, being in the in the classroom, on the field, in the weight room, whatever it is,” Garcia-Castaneda said. “I love the staff, I love the team and the culture; I think is a complete 180 shift. So I think everybody has really bought into what Coach Rhule is setting for us, the standard and stuff like that. So everything’s been really fun. I’ve been enjoying it and just going out every day, waking up every day and coming to work with your brothers, it’s been really fun and enjoyable.”

That fun includes learning from McGuire, who is only a few years older than Garcia-Castaneda himself.

“Coach McGuire is super smart, super intelligent, one of the smarter coaches I’ve ever been around,” Garcia-Castaneda said. “Everybody always talks about him being young, how that was going to be a thing, but I like it a lot because when he’s coaching us he not only is relatable to us and stuff, but he really wants us to be active in our meetings. So he’s constantly keeping us on our toes, asking us questions, and if you’re not in there taking notes, you’re wrong. So you have to be locked in, but it’s enjoyable. You want to do it as a player in there, it’s very fun being coached by him and high energy all the time. So it’s definitely tough at times like anything is, but it’s fun. It’s something I love.” 

McGuire described what he’s seen from Garcia-Castaneda thus far as “unbelievable.”

“His parents are actually from West Texas so that holds a special place in my heart, especially with my family,” McGuire said. “Just a super disciplined, detailed guy, very smart, very, very engaged in the meetings when either myself or Coach Satt is speaking. He’s available. That’s all we’re looking for, is guys who are available.”

That availability is what Rhule highlighted as well, calling him “really, really, really dependable.” 

“He’s talented,” Rhule said. “Good hands, gets in and out of his breaks. The biggest thing we’re trying to express to this team is dependability is one of the greatest traits you can have with the team — if I know you’re where you’re supposed to be and do what you’re supposed to do. Isaiah is a guy, especially with his story, transferring in, leaving the team, there’s a lot of questions in terms of ‘Hey, what happened?’ I never really dealt into it with him. I try to give everyone a blank slate and he’s been awesome. I think he’s a guy who can really help us this fall.”

Garcia-Castaneda is one of four upperclassmen in the wide receiver room, and all four of them began their careers elsewhere. Marcus Washington transferred in with Garcia-Castaneda last year while Billy Kemp IV and Joshua Fleeks joined the program this year. The Huskers have a big group of underclassmen at wideout with more on the way after the spring semester, and Garcia-Castaneda said the room has come together well under McGuire’s leadership.

“I’m not really a vocal leader but I think I try and do my best to lead by example,” Garcia-Castaneda said. “We have guys like Billy, Marcus, Fleeks that are also upperclassmen and stuff. So everybody, I think, has just bonded and got along real well in the room and we’ve kind of bought into the standard of Coach Rhule, the standard of Coach McGuire, and we all just lean on one another and just keep pushing every single day. We’re trying to get better and help each other. It’s very competitive, but very family oriented. So it’s been good.”

Four months ago, Garcia-Castaneda was just a regular student, wondering about his football future. Now he’s back with the team, looking to make the most of his second chance at being a Husker.

  • Never miss the latest news from Hail Varsity!

    Join our free email list by signing up below.