COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- There was a time not long ago former 5-star offensive lineman Damian Prince, the prize get four years ago out of Bishop McNamara, would look to the ground or eyes wander off in space when queried by media.
He would have long pauses between responses, sometimes between words, his comments truncated, not always sure of himself, sometimes downright pained getting through.
Now the 6-foot-3, 315-pound man-child has become, well, from the looks and sounds of things so far in spring camp, a man up front for what could be one of Maryland's stouter offensive lines in years.
No longer a demurring pup unsure of his words (or steps), Prince has drawn high praise for his work this month as D.J. Durkin and crew prepare for Year Two in need of better production up front.
Prince's weight, and body, is the best it has been so far at College Park, as mind you, he arrived at some 360 pounds as a doughty frosh with high expectations.
Trimmed down and far more direct are his words, too, as he has done an 180 with stream of consciousness comments as he addressed a media gaggleafternoon at Maryland Stadium, Prince brimming with confidence, as the words rolled off his tongue rapid-fire.
Prince, fellow junior Derwin Gray, guards Sean Christie and Terrance Davis, and center Brendan Moore hope to protect new quarterback Caleb Henderson this fall, while springing a run game that features two big-play threats in junior Ty Johnson and sophomore LoLo Harrison in a year the Terps hope to get more balance on that side of the ball.
And it all starts up front in the trenches, where Prince and Davis, the true sophomore who earned his stripes last year as a rookie, have set the tone this spring in camp.
"Really, just my confidence," Prince said. "I am no longer a freshman, a sophomore, a redshirt freshman, or a redshirt sophomore. I am now an upperclassman going into my fourth year of being in the program, and I want to be a guy that the younger guys look up to."
Prince said it began off the field for him as he transitioned.
"I took it upon myself to turn it up a notch in the film room, inside the weight room, even when it comes to things like class. Being an overall leader someone the guys could look up to on or off the field."
Terps defensive end Chandler Burkett sees it every day at practice battling Prince in those trenches, where he is both stronger physically and sharper with his steps and technique mentally not yielding much ground.
"I go against him almost every snap, so I have seen a lot of him and I like what I have seen," Burkett said. "He is strong in the pass game, obviously, but he is also a big body and knows how to use his feet in the run game. So he is making me a better player every day."
Terps head man D.J. Durkin believes Prince and the entire O-line has heard enough about how the line of scrimmage must get stronger and stouter for B1G Ten play. Prince has heard the whispers ever since he got to Maryland, the game hopefully soon matching the hype.
"He's taken on that challenge, and that's a direct challenge towards Damian and his unit and his group. And that's Derwin [Gray] and Brendan Moore, all those guys," Durkin said. "They are, they understand that's something....and obviously i have said it publically at some point...and they hear about that everyday, every day here that we need to get better at the line of scrimmage both sides of the ball. And I think we are making progress in those areas, I think Coach [Jimmy] Brumbaugh and Coach [Tyler] Bowen are doing a great job of helping them. And to their credit, the players they have taken on that challenge and have responded."
Prince and Gray came in with tons of hype, but it has been a long time coming.
"Definitely I have seen us grow tremendously," Prince said of the duo. "We come from the same football background in terms of having the same trainers and things like that before we got to college. We have the same ideologies and the same beliefs as far as football stuff like steps and things like that. Being we are both on our third offensive line coach, we just look at that and try to learn as much from him [Bowen] as physically possible. So we just try to grow with each other because if you are not growing with everything you are doing, well you know you are dead. So we just try to improve with every practice coming out.'
Prince started at right tackle last season but had his share of hits and misses with steps and technique, with some bad whiffs at times in pass-pro. The stakes keep getting higher in the league for the Terps, and in said league it all starts in the trenches. Prince said more talent infusion in the program has helped get the unit closer to where it needs to be overall.
"In my opinion, it has always felt like a Big Ten line, quote, end quote," Prince said. "And now we have some local guys, some higher-end guys filling into roles. Some of you guys in the media think this is a better line, but really it is all about the mentality. Everybody is physical, everybody is big, everybody is strong, But I feel this is a closer-knit line because we have been through this together. Whoever plays this year, nine times out of 10 we're all going to be guys who have played in the past at some point in time. So this as a unit is a more experienced line."
Prince likes the newness the younger Bowen, the former Terp, brings to the job as new OL coach. He said it has in turn resulted in him asking more "sophisticated" questions now in position meetings, always trying to stay up with technology and the like.
"He is different because he is a younger guy so he is more familiar with some of the nuances of the position," Prince said. "He is into things like Twitter because he is younger so he looks up certain things, he finds certain things, and sends out links constantly about techniques and things. So we're all on our phones instead of bringing guys in all times of day. So he's into the new stuff that is going to come about, and things people don't even know about yet."
Prince also likes the look of the Terps new gunslinger Henderson, who he has known since middle school through training and combines in the DMV.
"He is a tough, fiery, competitive guy. I have confidence in Caleb."
Prince perhaps sums it up best, his own improvement on and off the field, saying it is a broader approach now for him.
"I try to approach my game from a holistic approach. I take on everything, hand placement, getting in the film room, footwork, being able to play every position on the line. I kinda try to take all that in now."