The Maryland football team's trip to Ohio State in October 2015 was largely forgettable, as the Terps lost by 21 points to the then-No. 1-ranked Buckeyes in Randy Edsall's final game as head coach. However, a battle in the trenches that day represented a key point in the development of Maryland's young right tackle.
For most of the day, Damian Prince was matched up against Ohio State's Joey Bosa, who at the time was one of the best edge rushers in the nation and would soon become the third overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers. Though Bosa created his fair share of havoc in the Terps' backfield, including a sack late in the contest, Prince held his own as a redshirt freshman.
"[Bosa] had played about 30 games by that time, and I felt like I competed well," Prince said. "So I feel like that was kind of the game in my career that kind of stood out to me at that point in time and let me know if I continue to work, that I can be really, really good at this level."
One season later, Prince started all 13 of Maryland's games at right tackle, helping to pave the way for a rushing attack that averaged 199.5 yards per game, good for fourth in the Big Ten.
This year, the 6-foot-3, 315-pound Prince is one of four juniors on the Terps' starting offensive line. The unit got off to a good start, helping Maryland to a 263-yard rushing day and allowing one sack during a 51-41 upset victory at Texas Sept. 2.
Prince's journey as a highly rated prospect began in part at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md., where he developed into the 27th-rated prospect nationally, the second-rated offensive tackle and the top-rated player in Maryland on 24/7 Sports' composite rankings for the class of 2014. He was also named to The Washington Post's first-team All-Metro squad twice and earned a trip to the prestigious Under Armour All-America Game after his senior season in 2013. Prince committed to Maryland over Florida on signing day in February 2014.
Keith Goganious, who coached Prince during his senior season at McNamara, said he "was taken aback by how athletic he was at his size" shortly after getting to know Prince. Goganious noted Prince played defensive end and defensive tackle in addition to his duties as McNamara's left offensive tackle. He could also run step-for-step with the linebackers and even played basketball for the Mustangs before Goganious arrived at the school.
"His athletic ability, just watching him move, change direction, and he could do it at the drop of a dime. He had great feet when I was at McNamara," said Goganious, who is now the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at IMG Academy in Florida. "So I just knew that he's one of those guys that God kind of touched, giving him just great ability for somebody his size."
Goganious, in his first year at McNamara, understood Prince's teammates were bound to look up to him throughout the 2013 season. Goganious impressed upon Prince the importance of his leadership with respect to his younger teammates.
"I told him I really needed him to kind of help me get through to some of the younger guys -- being the senior, being the type of player that he was -- to help me build the type of program that we needed," Goganious said. " … I would tell him in the mornings or at school, I'd say, ‘Today, I'm going to pick on you all day. Everything you do is not going to be right. I don't care how good you do it, just so I'd get the attention of the other guys.' And he said, ‘No problem.' He understood that."
After playing at McNamara, where Goganious said Prince "was the perfect student-athlete that you would want representing your program," Prince moved on to Maryland. He redshirted as a freshman in 2014, a common practice for first-year offensive linemen in order to give them a year in the weight room, on the practice field and in the film room to get up to speed on the college game. As Prince put it, even though he felt physically ready to play, the older offensive linemen on the team "knew the XYZs and I was learning the ABCs."
The Terps went 3-9 under Edsall and interim head coach Mike Locksley in 2015, but the season wasn't devoid of positives, one of which was playing time for Prince, who started six games that season. That experience would help him one year later, when he was a key part of one of the best running games in the Big Ten. The development of an offensive lineman, according to Prince, differs from a skill position player who may be able to produce as a freshman.
"It's a lot different, because it's not a natural position. You're trying to move [faster] backwards than someone is forward," Prince said. "You're trying to move faster laterally than someone is forward, while maintaining balance. It's things that in high school kind of got overlooked because you're just, eight times out of 10, probably more athletic than the guy that you're going against. But in college, it's a lot more intricate. It takes a lot more attention to detail."
Prince added that in-game experience is vital, in part because it helps offensive linemen learn what's happening on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
"You can run the same play, but if it's four different defenses, you'll be doing four completely different things," Prince said. "So it's a mental factor that kind of goes into play with that."
Prince's development has continued this year under the watchful eye of offensive line coach Tyler Bowen, who Prince has known since Bowen was a graduate assistant on the Terps' staff in 2011 and 2012. Prince said the youthful Bowen's modern teaching techniques -- like reinforcing teaching points through videos Bowen sees on social media -- "go a long ways as far as communication and building a relationship and knowing someone."
Bowen noted an example of how he connects with his players after a spring practice in April. "We were talking about a particular technique in a set, and I find one that we did in practice that was perfect," Bowen said. "I take a video of it, text it out to [the offensive tackles] in a group chat and say, ‘Hey, this is exactly what we're looking for.'"
Terps offensive coordinator Walt Bell said Bowen has helped Prince become better in pass protection, keying in on areas such as improving his hands and punch at the point of attack. Bell also noted Prince has changed his body under strength and conditioning coach Rick Court, allowing him to bend and move more effectively on the field with help from Bowen.
This year in the Big Ten, Maryland will face pass rushers such as Minnesota linebacker Blake Cashman (7.5 sacks last year), Indiana linebacker Tegray Scales (seven) and Ohio State defensive linemen Tyquan Lewis (eight) and Nick Bosa (five), Joey's brother. Prince and company will be ready.
"[Prince is] a lot better in all phases of the game right now, but especially in his pass [protection]," Bell said, "and as we continue through the season … there's going to be some special ends that we're going to play, so it'll be interesting and fun to see how we hold up throughout the year."
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 237: September 2017