Even with a slew of television cameras and a crowd of community members gathered in the Bishop McNamara High gym awaiting his announcement on National Signing Day, Damian Prince forced himself to look beyond the glitz and hype. In that moment Wednesday morning, Prince was hailed by fans and recruiters as the nation’s top uncommitted offensive lineman. But months from now, in the heart of the college football season, Prince knows he’ll just be one unproven college freshman among many.
As the two-time All-Met sifted through his 40-plus Football Bowl Subdivision offers, Prince kept coming back to Maryland, the first school to offer him a scholarship as a freshman and the last school standing when he announced his college choice before classmates and a national cable television audience.
“You know, one thing I started noticing at the end of my recruitment was, after the cameras turn off, after the lights go down, who’s really going to be there for you,” said Prince, a Parade all-American. “I felt like at the University of Maryland, I had the best relationship with them and their coaching staff.”
Though Prince’s decision served as the biggest surprise among the hundreds of area seniors across multiple sports who finalized their college choices Wednesday, the frenzied day produced its share of emotions, memories and excitement.
For most of the past year, Woodbridge High’s Da’Shawn Hand stood as the area’s premier prospect for colleges across the nation.
But the All-Met Defensive Player of the Year, who committed to Alabama in November, was one of the last athletes to fax his letter of intent Wednesday after accidentally bringing the wrong copy to his school ceremony. When Hand faxed in the correct copy around 8 a.m., officially bringing his recruitment to a close, both he and Alabama’s coaches were able to exhale.
“It feels great. I’m so happy that it’s over,” Hand said. “Now it’s time to just focus on school, training, work and being a kid. That’s it.”
With Wednesday’s wintry weather canceling his school’s signing ceremony and his commitment to Maryland on the board since August, Good Counsel defensive end Jesse Aniebonam thought the excitement of National Signing Day would bypass him. But as he sat down at his home, surrounded by family, to sign his letter of intent to join Prince and St. John’s quarterback Will Ulmer in college, he said he found himself reliving the excitement of the recruiting process.
“I thought it would just be another day, but it felt like I was committing all over again,” Aniebonam said in a phone interview. “I guess that’s why National Signing Day is such a big thing.”
Twenty football players from the WCAC champion Stags inked their letters of intent to colleges such as Florida State (Brock Ruble), Wisconsin (Taiwan Deal, Chris Jones), Virginia Tech (Cameron Phillips) and Penn State (Mark Allen).
About five miles south in Northeast, All-Met defensive back Jalen Tabor had traveled back from Florida, where he enrolled early following his January commitment, to deliver an emotional speech in the Friendship gym while flanked by 17 of his teammates.
“I didn’t want to come back and make this about me,” Tabor said. “I wanted to come back and make this about everybody but me.”
As the hours whittled down and final faxes rolled into the offices of college coaches, the attention centered on players such as Tabor and his fellow Friendship players shifted to the next crop of talented athletes in the area, such as Quince Orchard All-Met Adam McLean.
Just a few weeks ago, the junior defensive lineman trimmed down his list of colleges to five. But when he was notified Wednesday morning that Alabama Coach Nick Saban wanted to speak with him by phone, McLean found himself thrust into the heat of the same recruiting process that the 2014 class was still wrapping up.
“He wanted me to be the first person they offered . . . on Signing Day,” McLean said. “I actually cried. I cried because at this time a year and a half ago, I couldn’t see any of this. . . . I just couldn’t see this picture.”
Roman Stubbs and Joey LoMonaco contributed to this report.