Five-star Florida prospect Charles Lester III has turned into one of the nation’s most highly coveted cornerbacks in the 2024 recruiting class.
The 6-foot-1, 171-pound Riverview High School (Sarasota, Florida) cornerback holds offers from the likes of Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, Oklahoma, Florida State, Florida, Kentucky, Miami, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Tennessee and USC.
The Buckeyes ensured Lester III knows he's one of their priority targets in the 2024 cycle when Ryan Day stopped by his high school on Monday.
Lester III has reciprocated Ohio State’s interest, taking an unofficial visit to OSU on Sept. 24 for the Wisconsin game. Lester III is considered the 22nd-best prospect nationally and the third-ranked cornerback in the 2024 class in 247Sports’ composite rankings.
At Riverview, Lester plays extensively at both cornerback and wide receiver. With Lester III being valued so highly by Ohio State, Eleven Warriors caught up with Riverview head coach Josh Smithers to get a better understanding of what makes Lester an elite player and his thoughts on Ohio State.
This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
Q: Ryan Day recently visited your high school during Ohio State’s off week. For you personally, how cool was it for you to have a head coach at a program like that come through your school because of an interest in your player?
Josh Smithers: Any time you get any coach from a program like Ohio State, it’s exciting and it’s great for the school, the kids and our program. These guys have a ton of stuff on their plate, so it’s an honor to have the head coach from Ohio State come down and spend some time here. It’s not like he came in, said hi and left. I thought it was pretty cool he spent some time with us.
Q: What discussions did Day have with you about Charles?
Smithers: We just talked about a little bit of everything. Everything from his personal life growing up and obviously as a player, then about his character and academics and all that kind of stuff. One of the things I think that separates Charles from others is he checks the boxes in all those things.
Q: Obviously Charles has blown up in the recruiting scene and has offers from nearly every prestigious program in America. How cool has that been for you to see him turn into such a highly-regarded prospect nationally?
Smithers: It’s really exciting. Especially since my mom taught him when he was in elementary school, so I’ve known him for a long time. To see such an incredible young man have such an honor to be recruited by all these programs, it feels great because he does everything the right way. When it works out for a young man like this, you just feel great for him.
Q: From what you’ve gathered, what did it mean for Charles to have Ryan Day come visit him at his high school?
Smithers: It’s huge. I think it’s tough because when you’re growing up you’re fans of certain schools and all that sort of stuff, but now he’s living the dream of being one of those guys that he looked up to that was highly recruited. I think he’s done a really good job soaking it all in and appreciating every moment that he’s had and to have coach Day show up on campus and spend the time to recruit him, I think it means a lot to him. I think these guys know that when the head coach comes, you know how serious they are. It just solidifies that he knows the way Ohio State feels about him.
Q: He also visited Ohio State on Sept. 24 for the Buckeyes’ game against Wisconsin. What did he tell you about his visit and what were his main takeaways from seeing a game at Ohio Stadium?
Smithers: He said it was awesome and different than a lot of places he’s been at. The energy and environment were great and he said the fans were crazy and loud. He was really impressed by the whole atmosphere when he got there and when he left. He has a great relationship with coach (Tim) Walton, who’s done a great job recruiting him.
Q: On the field, what would you say is his specialty? Is he a guy that excels playing man, zone or all of the above?
Smithers: I do think that he can do it all. That’s part of the reason he’s so highly recruited, he’s long and athletic and has really good feet. He gets in and out of his breaks and has become physical enough to where he can press people and I feel very comfortable against anybody. We play a lot more zone than we do man, and he’s really good at breaking on the football.
We had a play in our last game where you could see why he’s a little different. He was playing banged up with a thigh bruise and wasn’t running really well. A guy got behind him, and you were just like ‘Oh man.’ By the time the ball got there, he just ran it down, snatched the ball out of the air and returned it for about 45 yards and gave us good field position. He can do it all and is comfortable playing zone or man. He likes the challenge of being put out there by himself and having to compete hard to help his team.
Q: Some coaches when they have a cornerback as talented as he is will isolate an opponent’s top receiver and just leave their top corner on him to take him away. Is that the mindset you’ve used to deploy Charles in your defense?
Smithers: Well, his freshman year people figured out how good he was. He led our team in interceptions with six or seven picks and he didn’t even start the first three or four games for us. So as a sophomore, teams just threw away from him. They just would not throw to him. So in the offseason I just thought, ‘Man, I feel like we’re wasting him just putting him on one side.’
So at the beginning of this year we put him at free safety to get him involved in everything. But we had some problems with the level of competition because this year’s schedule is probably the toughest one we’ve had in like 30 years. So we faced some top-notch receivers, and some of the other guys struggled to guard them. We were forced to put him back at corner and that’s what we’ve been doing ever since is to put Charles on the team’s No. 1 and try to match him up from there. It’s worked out well for us.
Q: What would you say is his best on-field attribute and his best off-field attribute?
Smithers: It might be the same thing. But his competitiveness. One of the comments I got from a lot of coaches that came through in the spring was how he would compete so hard in every drill he did. Everything was full speed. I think that is his best attribute, to compete play in and play out. If I don’t take him out on offense, he’ll literally play every snap of every game if I let him. He also wanted to be on kickoff and we just took him off punt. His willingness to be competitive in any situation is a great attribute and that follows him in everything he does.
Even off the field, one of the things I tell people that’s impressive is when he got offers from Ohio State, Alabama, Michigan, and Georgia in January and February, that quarter was the first 4.0 GPA he had in high school. It just goes to show what kind of young man he is. It wasn’t ‘Oh man, I’ve made it, let me relax. Let me work harder and compete in the classroom.’ He’s a 3.9 GPA guy normally, so he’s been really close to 4.0 for a while, but he knocked out his first 4.0 GPA that third quarter and that’s when he blew up.
Q: He can go to almost whatever school he wants to in the country. So what do you think are the most important factors to him when he’s looking at these schools?
Smithers: We haven’t really talked specifics about that yet, I just try to tell him to enjoy the process since it can become overwhelming. We have talked about a timeline and when to cut things down, I think he does want to have a decision made before his senior year. I know he’s extremely passionate about football, so it’s going to have to be a top-tier program where they’d be able to develop and prepare him for the next level so he’d have an opportunity to play in the NFL. And also his relationship with the coaches that are going to be there, I think those are going to be really important things. Charles also does well academically, so having good academics will also be important.