Irvin Charles emerged as one of the Northeast's premier wide receiver prospects during his junior season and swiftly saw his recruitment heat up in the aftermath. The 6'4", 212-pound pass target holds more than two dozen scholarship offers but has begun to focus on the final stretch of his decision process.
Charles, rated a 4-star recruit by 247Sports, identified seven top schools during the final month of May. Still eight months away from national signing day, he determined Miami, Louisville, Michigan State, Maryland, Penn State, South Carolina and Florida would be at the forefront moving forward.
Going public about the favorites wasn't something he rushed.
"It's been a long process determining that list," Charles said. "I had a lot of people help me reach this decision. I just looked at it from a standpoint of playing time—that's first and foremost—a school that wins and a place that will fit my comfort zone. That's why I trimmed it down to those seven."
The rising senior from Paul VI High School in Haddonfield, New Jersey left several squads off his list of top collegiate options. Alabama, Ohio State, Tennessee and in-state Rutgers are among programs that now look like long shots to sign Charles, although he explained that not every team outside the top seven is necessarily eliminated.
"Anything can happen," he said. "Nothing is final or set in stone, but these are the schools that have really separated themselves from the others."
Charles, who caught 49 passes for 848 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, has visited Penn State several times. He plans to return this summer, while also journeying to the campuses of his other six favorites.
The versatile playmaker detailed his thought process regarding each of the top seven programs, sharing what stands out about each option.
"It's about the vibe at Penn State. The fan support and everything about it. I've been up to Penn State multiple times, and I've never been disappointed. Not just from a football standpoint, but how everyone in the area loves the football team and how Coach Franklin is doing. I know they're going to do big things. Everyone wants to be a part of the next big thing."
The Nittany Lions extended an offer to Charles in mid-February, just a few days after the team landed fellow 4-star Southern New Jersey receiver Juwan Johnson. Penn State has feasted in this region when it comes to recruiting, so it's no surprise to see another standout compelled by the program.
Charles is projected to sign with Penn State by 53 percent of expert predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball.
"I think really highly of the Hurricanes because of what they've done in the past and what they're capable of doing in the future. I like how (wide receivers) coach (Brennan) Carroll does things. I like their philosophy down there, with freshman being able to compete with the first-team players. You can come in early and compete for a starting job."
The Hurricanes joined this race relatively late, extending an offer in April. Miami enjoyed a strong spring on the recruiting trail, with 4-star talents Dexter Williams (running back) and Dwayne Lawson (quarterback) committing to the team.
Miami trails only Penn State in 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections for Charles. The Hurricanes are predicted to sign him by 29 percent of experts.
"Obviously they can get the job done after seeing what they did last year. They have a pro-style offense, which is one I think I can really fit into. I want to go out there and get a taste of what Michigan State is all about. I've seen it from the outside, so now I want to see it from the inside and go from there."
The reigning Big Ten champions are competing with a pair of conference foes (Penn State and Maryland) for Charles. The Spartans landed talented Arizona quarterback Brian Lewerke in April but remain in search of offensive skill players.
Michigan State was the third Big Ten team to offer Charles after Iowa and Rutgers.
"One thing I take into consideration is the durability of a coaching staff. That's why I'm kind of iffy. But at the same point, it's a good offer and they do a lot of things I like. I'm going to watch this football season at Florida carefully to see how productive it is. I just want to make sure they're doing what I think they can do and see what things might look like for the following year."
Gators head coach Will Muschamp is coming off a disastrous 2013 season, when the offense struggled mightily. Charles is taking the same approach as several Florida targets, monitoring the team to see how things turn out this fall.
Among programs on his list of favorites, Florida was the last one to offer him (April 30).
"It's a winning team that never really seems to go through slumps. I also have family in South Carolina, and that's a good thing. I would have an extra comfort level going down there, and I wouldn't be homesick. I'll have people come watch me play that I'm close with. I can just get out there and ball out early, get on the field and do what I do best."
The Gamecocks have assembled a solid corps of pass-catchers during this recruiting cycle, including 3-star prospects Dexter Neal and Michael Bowman. Neither player possesses Charles' height, but they complement each other well as assets for 4-star quarterback commit Lorenzo Nunez.
"They do a good job of distributing to wide receivers. (Receivers) coach Keenan (McCardell) played in the NFL for a lot of years. He knows, from a receiver's perspective, what it takes to get to the next level. I'm going to college to get coached up, not to stay the same. I feel like being coached by him for the next three or four years would be a great thing to do to prepare for the draft."
Charles is clearly drawn to College Park by the prospect of playing for McCardell, who caught nearly 900 passes and won a Super Bowl as a pro. After a slow start, the Terrapins added two commits during the final week of May and may finally be building some momentum.
In terms of early playing time, he would immediately become one of the program's most highly regarded offensive prospects.
"I really like how they do things. I watched their spring game, and they produced a lot of offense. Another thing that sparks my interest is they're losing several wide receivers to graduation. They only have one or two key guys coming back, so I know if I go there it's going to be necessary for me to contribute early. I also have some family in Kentucky, which is another reason why they made the cut."
The Cardinals landed just one receiver with a 3-star rating or better during the 2014 recruiting cycle and have yet to solidify a 2015 prospect at the position. The team just lost a first-round NFL quarterback but has several intriguing options ready to step up as starter for the first season of Bobby Petrino's return.
Charles aims to announce a commitment prior to the start of his senior season, though he admits things could remain unsettled heading into September. A summer filled with campus visits and coaching sales pitches will help him continue to trim a dwindling list of possible destinations.
Recruit ratings and statistics courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R recruiting columnist Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.