Running back Robert Washington whittled an offer list of more than 40 college football programs to just six squads this spring. His methodical approach to a nationwide recruitment is nearly complete.
An April 25 decision date looms large for Washington, a 4-star prospect from SouthLake Christian Academy in North Carolina. The 5'10", 215-pound playmaker is among the most heavily pursued high school juniors in America and landed his first offer from Ole Miss in eighth grade.
"It's been amazing," Washington told Bleacher Report. "Receiving that first offer took my breath away, and I didn't fully comprehend what it all meant until I grew up during high school."
His sheet of scholarship options expanded to include Ohio State, Stanford, Tennessee, USC and enough universities to keep Washington's mailbox stuffed with recruiting mail on a regular basis.
While working to focus on a group of finalists, he adopted an unorthodox approach. Rather than release the group all at once, Washington unveiled the list during the course of several weeks.
"This recruitment process is something you get to do just one time, so I decided to make it a little more interesting with the way I put together my top six teams," he said. "Instead of putting the whole list out there, I kept people guessing by doing it one by one. It's been fun."
Syracuse became his first finalist in February. UNC joined the list soon afterward, followed by TCU, Alabama and Michigan. Florida finally wrapped up the six-team collection of schools under consideration.
"There are four things that stand out about each finalist," Washington said. "I have a great relationship with the running back coaches and head coaches; I've visited them all and feel at home on campus; I can push for early playing time because they have a need at running back; and they have strong education and support systems."
Washington plans to enroll early at the university of his choice. Rated 14th nationally among running back prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings, he's enjoyed an illustrious high school career.
Washington rushed for 5,762 yards and 69 touchdowns during the past three seasons. He showed versatility in the receiving game during that span, catching 33 passes for 610 yards.
"I pride myself on being a balanced back," Washington said. "I can go to the slot, run between the tackles, run outside the tackles, sweeps, options and really whatever we need to win. I can block. I want to bring that well-rounded skill set on every down."
Less than two weeks shy of his announcement, he doesn't have any intentions of visiting schools prior to the decision. In fact, Washington is a bit preoccupied preparing for prom this weekend.
"I know which program I'm going to choose, but nobody else does right now," he said. "I haven't even told my parents."
Washington may be keeping his collegiate outlook under wraps, but he broke down each finalist during a discussion with Bleacher Report.
Washington received high praise during a conversation with one of the game's all-time greats.
"[Alabama head coach] Nick Saban told me I remind him of 'Beast Mode' [Marshawn Lynch], and that's an honor coming from him," he said. "He's a legendary coach who has had a ton of success with running backs. Guys like Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy, T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and others have done big things with him. So for Saban to compare me to Lynch—probably the best running back in the NFL right now—is very special."
Though a long journey lies ahead for him to meet those expectations, Washington believes much of his game is modeled in similar fashion to that of Lynch, who helped lead the Seattle Seahawks to consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
"Defenses have to work so hard when trying to stop him because he runs with so much power and aggression. That's the way I try to play," Washington said. "When Saban made that comparison, all I could do was smile and thank him. Lynch was a great running back in high school; a great running back in college; and now he's even better in the NFL. Those are big goals for a player like me."
Washington credits the new Gators regime for gaining momentum en route to securing the sixth and final spot on his list.
"The new coaching staff is very aggressive," Washington said. "Coach Skip [running backs coach Tim Skipper] keeps in contact with me every day. As a recruit, you want to be shown that love and feel wanted. That's what their staff does."
He also has a personal connection in Gainesville through rising redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier. The two grew up in the same area and spent time together as friends despite a two-year age gap.
They reconnected on campus last July, when Washington was nearby for a camp.
"We met up when I was down at Florida last summer," he said. "It's always good to catch up and I know Will is working hard to compete down there. Hopefully, if I join him as a Gator, we can do some big things."
The Wolverines landed a commitment from 4-star in-state running back Matt Falcon on April 8, though that hasn't deterred Washington from viewing Michigan as a desirable destination.
"It impacts my decision a little bit, but I'm a guy who loves to compete, and that's what I do," he said. "Whether Matt Falcon is already there or somebody else, it doesn't really matter because there are always going to be other running backs to compete with at any school."
It sounds like Michigan's new staff would still gladly welcome Washington into the fold, establishing excellent depth in the offensive backfield.
"[Head coach Jim] Harbaugh told me I'm the No. 1 running back on his list," he said. "When coaches come after you aggressively like that, it really makes you feel special as a recruit."
The Wolverines' new leader has caught attention from plenty of prospects, and Washington is no exception.
"Coach Harbaugh is really what attracts me to Michigan," he said. "He knows how to produce a pro running back, and he's recruited me very hard. I actually spoke to Coach Harbaugh on the phone four times before announcing Michigan as one of my top schools."
UNC is a slight favorite to sign Washington in 247Sports' Crystal Ball. The Tar Heels have an advantage in proximity that's difficult to compete with for other contending coaches.
"Obviously, with the school being so close—only about two hours away—I have a really good relationship with coach [Larry] Fedora and his assistant coaches," Washington said. "It's pretty amazing the way they've been recruiting me since ninth grade. UNC was one of my earliest offers, and they've kept making me feel welcome for all of these years."
Sustained contact has been key to this relationship. UNC's recruiting efforts prove the staff targets Washington as a long-term priority.
"They come up to my school almost every other week," he said. "When they get a chance to come up, they make that visit. We have a close-knit relationship with each other."
Somewhat surprisingly, Syracuse was the first program to be tabbed as one of Washington's top six options. There's been a major push to procure Washington from the Southeast since the early stages of his recruitment, and it's become a frenzied situation in Upstate New York.
"It's been fun getting recruited by 'Cuse because their fans are crazy," he said. "They started this 'Restore 44' campaign for me. They've been pretty amazing throughout the process, and it's a school that I definitely felt belonged on the list."
The "Restore 44" campaign regards a potential return of the No. 44 to Syracuse's sidelines. The jersey, once worn by running back legends Jim Brown and Ernie Davis, has been retired since 2005.
The movement dubs Washington worthy of the honor, which is quite a gesture from the Syracuse community.
Washington has made multiple visits to TCU while competing in Texas as a member of the U.S. Under-18 National Team for football. Though campus is certainly a hike from North Carolina, that distance doesn't concern him.
"It is pretty far away from home, but I feel very comfortable there," Washington said. "It almost feels like a second home."
Washington spoke highly of the Horned Frogs coaching staff and noted the program's upward trajectory.
"I really enjoy talking to all their coaches, and [running backs] coach [Curtis] Luper is a great guy. He coached Tre Mason and all those guys at Auburn before," he said. "TCU had a great season last year, and that was fun to see. They're building something impressive."
All quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.