Running back T.J. Pledger asserted himself among America's most compelling underclassmen recruits with a sensational sophomore season at Chaminade High School in the Los Angeles area.
The 5'9", 188-pound playmaker posted 100-yard rushing efforts in eight of 11 games last fall, according to MaxPreps, and scored 27 total touchdowns. He gained 1,331 yards on the ground, adding another 381 yards as a receiver.
Months before he returns to action as a junior, Pledger is placing a larger spotlight on his rapidly expanding recruitment process.
"I'm looking for a spread offense that will put me into space and show my God-given talent. I also want to find a place where I feel comfortable on and off the field," he told Bleacher Report on Sunday before competing at The Opening's Los Angeles regional camp.
Pledger's search for the right fit started early, as a pair of Pac-12 programs extended scholarship offers before the conclusion of his freshman year. USC and Washington each elected not to wait for other schools to set the tone in this pursuit, offering him following a 2014 campaign that featured 1,000 offensive yards and 11 scores.
Nearly a year later, the nearby Trojans are well underway with attempts to keep him home. USC welcomed him to campus last Saturday for its junior-day event, increasing his respect for the team's history.
"It gave us a chance to learn more about the program's tradition. We know some of it because we all grew up in the Reggie Bush era, but there's so much more than that with O.J. Simpson, Marcus Allen and others. USC is a rare place, and it's a privilege to play there," he said.
Pledger, rated No. 4 nationally among 2018 running back prospects in 247Sports' rankings, previously referred to USC as his "dream school" in a self-authored USA Today piece. He left campus feeling very positive vibes.
"I enjoyed the whole day," Pledger said. "Walking around campus, putting on the USC jersey; it was all fun. I feel like I'm growing a really good relationship with the new staff, and that's very important."
Fight On... ✌🏾❤️💛 pic.twitter.com/UO4hZAwAHj— TJ Pledger (@uno_tj) February 27, 2016
He expects to use a trio of upcoming visits to explore additional opportunities. Pledger has planned April trips to Washington and Miami, where he has personal ties to the roster.
Hurricanes quarterback Brad Kaaya, who has thrown 42 touchdowns in two seasons as a starter, once starred at Chaminade. Though Pledger didn't reach high school until after Kaaya graduated, the two have created a bond.
"Brad and I are really close," he said. "We talk all the time. He's probably who I'm going to stay with on my visit. Brad is like a big bro."
Fellow Chaminade alum Bar Milo, a former 4-star offensive tackle prospect, signed with Miami in 2015. Pledger believes their presence on the roster could help him develop a strong sense of what life is like in Coral Gables.
"It's a dope opportunity. Having alumni from my high school at Miami is a great thing because I need to do my research to see if it could be a comfortable place for me," he said.
First-year Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, a former Georgia running back, previously recruited him on behalf of the Bulldogs. They offered Pledger a spot in Athens last October and now carry rapport into their new roles at Miami.
"I liked Coach Richt a lot at Georgia, so I think Miami is going in a good direction," he said.
Ohio State is the third upcoming destination, Pledger confirmed, with an anticipated trip in June. The Buckeyes presented Pitcher with an offer this winter.
"Urban Meyer is a legend, so I really can't wait to go out there and see how the team prepares," he said.
His offer list also includes Cal, Washington State and West Virginia. Pledger is confident more doors will open down the road and is especially eyeing a local school.
"If they're listening, I want an offer from UCLA," he said.
Pledger also pointed to Arizona and Oklahoma as programs he'd love to hear from more frequently.
He believes whichever team ultimately lands him will gain a hard-nosed runner with top-tier skills.
"I've got heart and characterize myself as a competitor. I'm always going to give it my all, no matter who is in my way," Pledger said. "I think I have really good vision and breakaway speed. I need to work on my receiving skills out of the slot and the backfield. But overall, I'm just focused on becoming the best I can be, so I'm ready to contribute in college."