The staff meeting had finished on Wednesday and only one item of business remained on the agenda, so Maryland’s football coaches flipped on the projection screen, turned the channel to ESPNU and waited. No one knew how the next half-hour would unfold, whether Bishop McNamara offensive lineman Damian Prince would choose Maryland or Florida. Sometimes recruits will call before they announce, to give the staffs in consideration a heads up. Not Prince.
“Did you talk to him?” offensive coordinator Mike Locksley asked Coach Randy Edsall on Tuesday morning, when they arrived at Gossett Team House for National Signing Day.
“No,” Edsall replied. He, too, had tried calling Prince the night before, just to get one final word in before the decision. “Did you talk to him?”
So the coaches had to trust that their work would pay off. They had to trust that the relationships built with Prince and his family, beginning when he first attended a linemen camp three years ago as a big-bodied freshman, would be enough to coax the five-star prospect into staying home. They had weathered official visits to Florida State and South Carolina and watched as Prince narrowed down his choice to two schools, so once the 16 other members of their class of 2014 faxed over the signed national letters-of-intent, the only thing left to do was sit back and watch the show.
“We didn’t know,” Edsall would say later.
They knew they wanted Prince. Four offensive linemen had already signed with the Terps, but Prince was on a different level. He would be just the second high-school five-star to ink with Maryland since Edsall arrived, and since other top targets like Jared Cohen (North Carolina), Brock Ruble (Florida State) and Marcus Applefield (Rutgers) committed elsewhere, Prince would be a last-second boon for the program.
And what wasn’t to like? Prince was personable. He had attended several Maryland basketball games with the staff, just to get back on campus. He had been around long enough to see the Terps through good times and bad, and the Terps felt the same about him. Prince had overcome several strong doses of familial tragedy: His father was shot and killed four months before Prince was born, and on Nov. 28, 2011, the man who raised him, great-grandfather Willie Prince, was hit by a car and killed.
“I think the big thing is, recruiting is a relationship game,” Edsall said later. “It’s the relationships that you developed.”
Everything on the field had translated, too. Prince could pancake an opposing pass rushers with as much effort as it takes ordinary citizens to open doors. But ordinary citizens are not listed at 6 feet 5 and do not weigh 300 pounds and have not been named all-Americans by both Under Armour and Parade.
As the anxiety built, the announcement got backed up 15 minutes and that’s when the coaches realized no one had talked to Prince in several hours. He just wanted some space to make the decision, and later he would rhetorically ask, “When the lights turn off and the cameras go dim, who’s going to be there for you?”
When the time finally came, the ESPNU anchor tossed it to Prince, flanked inside the Bishop McNamara gymnasium by peers dressed up for the school day just like him. “Where are you going to play your college football?” the anchor asked, his words bouncing into Prince’s earpiece, and first Prince felt the need to say good morning to everybody watching.
There were many. Florida fans hoping Prince would join Jalen Tabor, the Friendship Collegiate cornerback who spurned the hometown school for the Swamp. Others, like faithful of South Carolina and Penn State, had long abandoned hope.
“I’m Damian Prince,” he continued on the projection screen, “and I want to thank everybody for coming out, but I will be playing my next four collegiate years at the University of Maryland.”
He slipped on a tiny baseball cap. Back in Gossett, the camera filming the reaction – which might have been incinerated had Prince chosen Florida – panned to show the coaches and everyone started to yell. Edsall sat at the table’s head, farthest from the screen, and first gave a golf clap, then started slapping every hand that came into sight. Soon everyone stood up and crowded over the table for fist-bumps and high-fives. “Let’s get it,” someone shouted. “Let’s get it,” even though they already had.