Terps Get a Princely Gift

FORESTVILLE, Md. -- Four-star offensive tackle Damian Prince (Bishop McNamara/Forestville, Md.) signed with Maryland on National Signing Day.

FORESTVILLE, Md. -- Almost three years ago, on June 22, 2011, to be exact, then-rising sophomore offensive tackle Damian Prince stood outside the front gates of Maryland's Byrd Stadium with a stunned expression plastered on his face, before slowly breaking into a wide grin. Already standing 6-feet-5 and weighing in at 290 pounds, the Bishop McNamara product took one of his massive paws and shook Terps head coach Randy Edsall's hand. The young left tackle still had three years of high school remaining, but he already had one scholarship under his belt.

Throughout the rest of that summer, and the next two years after that, Prince would procure offers aplenty, many from the nation's most renowned programs in the SEC and Big Ten. But through it all, he never forgot that initial verbal, that feeling when a college coach first let him know they wanted him in their program.

"Really, I was so young I didn't understand what was taking place with me being a freshman. But I definitely do remember that moment and since then it's always stuck in the back of my mind," said Prince, who became the 16th member of Maryland's 2014 class on National Signing Day Feb. 5. "But the Maryland coaches, I remember they told me then that this day [Feb. 5, 2014] was going to be a priority for them. They wanted me then and they stayed with me throughout the entire process.

"It really came down to following my heart. Everyone was saying great things, but you have to find what's real … and Maryland was real."

Though the four-star Prince had Maryland on his mind for many months, he said he didn't come to a firm decision until the morning of Feb.5, when he let his family, school community and the assembled media know he would indeed be attending college just a couple minutes down the road.

"My family found out when you all found out," Prince said after his press conference, chuckling. "This is not something I knew for months. I literally have only known where I was going for a few hours. It was no real formula; I followed my heart and went with my gut. Maryland just felt right, like a place I'd like to go even if I didn't play football. I've been there so much, it really is like another home for me.

"But it's an opportunity to play early, it's great academics and there's no secret the Big Ten produces some of the best linemen in the country. It's a great opportunity for me."

Family and football had always been a primary concern, but the Terps needed more than just those angles to bring in the talented lineman. Prince's primary recruiter, Mike Locksley, formed a deep bond with him, and the McNamara tackle appreciated UMD's offensive coordinator's approach.

"I talked to Coach Locks in the middle of the Super Bowl. We had a great relationship and have known each other so long," Prince said. "He related to me well. Growing up in the same area, we were able to connect at a certain level that no other coach in the country was able to relate to. Those relationships are very, very important, and he's the best recruiter I've had.

In addition, head coach Randy Edsall's character-building, academic-oriented message left an impression on Prince and his relatives, while new UMD offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, whose resume at previous-employer LSU spoke for itself, made a late charge as well.

"They didn't just offer some line coach where this is his first walk in the park. They hired someone with experience and who can bring some knowledge to me," Prince said. "He's coached players of my caliber. We got along great. He's a passionate coach and he coaches with intensity, and we got along great."

Even as Prince listened to overtures from the likes of Florida and South Carolina, officially visiting each, the Terps' coaches did their due diligence. They followed up with in-home and in-schools visits, while reiterating their pitch from the outset: Family first; be a leader among locals; turn the hometown program into a winner; anchor the line as the school moves to the Big Ten.

The "stay home" precedent had already been set with elite locals like Stefon Diggs and Yannick Ngakoue choosing Maryland, and Prince wanted the trend to continue. The Terps still have plenty of work to do in that regard, and this year they let the likes of Friendship Collegiate Academy's (Washington, D.C.) Jalen Tabor (Florida) slip away, but the importance of keeping the top local left tackle in the fold cannot be overstated.

"That home pride is definitely something I thought about. Every other state does it; the best players in Florida go to one of the Florida schools; every player in Georgia goes to one of the Georgia schools; every player in Texas goes to a Texas school," Prince said. "But for some reason there's a disconnect here, and I don't really know why that is.

"It's OK to go to Maryland and be from Maryland. People here need to know college is what you make of it no matter where you go and you can't be afraid to take a chance on something. I've never been one to jump on a bandwagon; I wanted to be different, show that staying home is OK."

When considering all that Prince valued, Maryland may have seemed like an obvious choice all along. But that wasn't really the case, even as he held Terps in high regard.

See, like many nationally-touted recruits, the process of choosing a college was a long and arduous one for Prince. Already boasting more than 20 offers after his sophomore season, his grandmother's and grandfather's – Dana and Gloria – mailbox overflowed daily with letters, some heartfelt handwritten notes from premier FBS coaches; many mass-spam letters with team logos big and hold on the front; and even a couple from angry fans threatening Prince if he didn't choose their school. Prince's high school coach at the time, Bryce Bevil, who is now the team minister at Maryland, used to keep a separate storage bin just for the emerging star's mail, some of which Prince glanced at and most of which he ignored.

Needless to say, it was a lot to take in for a 16-year old.

"I was going through a whole lot in this recruiting process; it was a lot of stress," Prince said. "As a young kid, you're never ready for it, but thankfully I had the support system and family to help me through it."

It wouldn't get any easier. By the next summer, with more than 40 offers in toe, the calls from newspaper reporters, recruiting websites, and those college coaches started flowing in steadily. Prince changed his cell number a couple times, but his new digits inevitably leaked out and the calls really never stopped coming. The back-and-forth on social media, meanwhile, became too much and Prince dialed back on Twitter posts as well.

"I really wanted to focus on what's important to me, and that's family and playing football," Prince said.

At that point, though, Prince had only begun the recruiting process. He had actually visited just a couple nearby schools such as Maryland and Rutgers, so he really didn't have a clear idea what colleges he was truly interested in. Even so, by June 2013, he was ready to name a top 10, which included Florida, Florida State, Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Ohio State, Rutgers, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.

The Terps, he made sure to mention, were firmly in the upper tier of that top 10.

"They were the first to offer, they're the hometown school," Prince said. "That's why they're there; that's why they were always there. They had been recruiting me since my freshman year, and they let it known since Day One they wanted me."

A half-year later, in December, Prince stood by those words, keeping Maryland in his top five, along with Florida, Florida State, South Carolina and Miami. And by mid-January, with prohibitive favorite FSU filling up its spots, Prince crossed out the Seminoles and Hurricanes to concentrate on the Terps, Gamecocks and Gators.

Having already officially visited UMD in November -- he was hosted by fellow D.C. native Deon Long and hung out with friends Stefon Diggs and Yannick Ngakoue before watching Maryland lose to Syracuse -- Prince took officials to USC and UF in January.

After that, he made one final cut. It would be the hometown mainstay versus the allure of the swamp and the Gator chomp (not to mention friend and UF commit Jalen Tabor and former Terp-turned-Gator Max Garcia).

"It wasn't easy to turn them down. Florida is such a great program," Prince said. "There was never a reason for me not to go to Florida; there were just so many reasons for me to go to Maryland."

But while it was difficult to turn down Florida, Prince always had the Terps just a bit out in front. There was family to consider here, and to Prince, that meant more to him than many recruits.

With Prince's mother, LaKeyia Chappell, raising Prince in a rougher section of southeast D.C., she elected to send her young toddler to live with his great grandmother, Jean, and great grandfather, Willie, in much safer Mitchellville, Md. So as Prince grew up, his great grandparents became the two most influential figures in his life.

But at the end of his sophomore year, Prince saw Willie Prince -- the man he called "dad," and the man who first pushed him into football and taught him the values of hard work and education -- killed in a car accident on Route 193 while helping a broken down motorist. A few moths later, his grandmother passed away, and just last spring Prince's beloved great grandmother, Jean, died following a sixth-month battle with liver cancer. (Prince's biological father, Damian DeVaughn Prince I, had been shot and killed in the mid-1990s as well).

"I had contemplated not even playing sports anymore after [Willie] died. I didn't even know what it felt like to be playing the game and him not being in the stands," Prince said earlier. "But he was all about never giving up, and I didn't give up… But if there was one thing I could change about [Signing Day] it would be for him to be here to see me now."

Prince, of course, returned and established himself as one of the region's top recruits. But when it came time to finally choose a college, he kept those closest to him, including his grandmother, Gloria; grandfather, Dana; and his mother, LaKeyia, at the forefront of his mind.

Thus, Damian Prince became a Maryland Terrapin Feb. 5 -- for the school, for the coaches, for relationships, and, most importantly, for family.

"It means a lot now that my family can see me play the next three, four years. It's not like I'm leaving them; they'll be able to see me every weekend if they want to," Prince said. "They've stood by me the entire time and they're very important to me. Anything I need to talk about, anything that's on my mind, I go to them. It was my decision [to go to Maryland], but it's great that they'll be right there, just down the street."

At that point, Prince broke into another wide grin, similar to the one he flashed three years earlier outside Byrd Stadium.

"I plan to make an immediate impact – immediate. I know what type of competitor I am, and I'm not planning to sit behind anybody," Prince said. "Tell Terps fans we're going to the Rose Bowl. Yeah, that sounds right -- Rose Bowl."

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