Following a standout prep career at Miami (Fla.) Central, where he excelled on both sides of the ball, Charles Gaines arrived at the University of Louisville with expectations of becoming a popular target of fellow incoming freshman, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
He spent his initial season as a Cardinal as a redshirt, before appearing seven games in 2012, totaling 11 receptions for 172 yards and a touchdown. Following that solid season, Gaines was asked by former U of L head coach Charlie Strong and then defensive coordinator Vance Bedford to put aside his hope to become an offensive star and make the move into the Cardinals secondary.
“It was hard,” he admitted at the time. “I like to put up points. I wanted to help my team in any way that I could, so I put my team before anything and listened to what my coaches have to say.”
Gaines focused on his new task throughout camp. Working against a receiving corp that included DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland, Gaines steadily improved and would eventually start 10 games at cornerback in 2013. Making grabbed his first career interception against Kentucky and by the end of the season, the receiver turned cornerback was the team leader with five interceptions.
2013 also saw Gaines role on special teams increase. In addition to a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown, he would also record touchdowns on a kick return and a blocked punt return during his sophomore season.
After a junior season that saw him add two more interceptions to his career total, record his first career sack, and lead the team in passes broken up for a second consecutive season, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound defensive back made the decision to forgo his senior year and make himself eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft.
Since leaving the Cardinals program after the Belk Bowl in December, Gaines has focused on his future professional career, focusing on the basics that can help a player become a next-level talent.
“One thing that happened to me was that it was like going back to the drawing board, going back to step one,” he explained. “Working on the small things that we need to be paying attention to during the football season, like footwork, foot placement, ball drills and just being around a team.”
He's also made sure to learn and adjust his life to going from a college student to someone who will be receiving a paycheck for his craft. His experience at the NFL Combine last month, and an opportunity to visit with former NFL great and current ESPN analyst Chris Carter, has helped the usual jovial Gaines approach the upcoming draft with a more business-like demeanor.
While he helped keep his former Cardinal teammates loose during the program's Pro Day, he was more focused on the task at hand and the importance of performing well.
“It's a business,” he said. “There's a time and place for everything. We want to kick it and talk as much as we did while we were in college, but this was a time to focus in and handle business.
“Be humble, stay humble. Watch everything around you and carry yourself like a camera is always watching.”
Currently projected as a mid-to-late draft pick, Gaines, who has met with multiple franchises, including Green Bay and Pittsburgh, is looking forward to the chance to joining his future team and continuing to do what he loves.
“You have to fit in where you get in,” he said. “Work hard always. That'll always be the goal, to work hard, and my goal is always have fun doing it.”