This is the reality you don’t see in the Rivals rankings, the prerequisite to 21 Division IA offers: Long before Isaiah Prince chooses a hat, he’ll backpedal up this hill again and again.
It’s hot and it’s humid in Greenbelt, though it’s barely 10 am, and Prince and the Eleanor Roosevelt Raiders are stumbling up the steep slope next to the school. Some look heavier than Prince, a little more muscle-bound maybe, and a few might be faster — defensive backs, inevitably — but none of them stands taller than Prince. He sticks out without trying, but he’s trying anyway.
Such is life for Prince, the 6-foot-6 rising senior who’s one of the best tackles in the country if you trust the recruit rankings, which have him as the sixth best player at his position in the class of 2015. If you don’t trust the guys at Rivals, just look at his offers — Maryland, Ohio State, Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Nebraska, etc — and you’ll come to the same conclusion.
When he was younger, Prince didn’t know it could be like this. Tall but skinny, he was still playing basketball and football as a sophomore when football coach Tom Green told him what football might be able to deliver. “Get up to around 270 pounds and stay there,” Green told him, “and football could get you somewhere.”
“I was losing too much weight playing basketball, I wasn’t lifting too much, and he told me it wasn’t going to go so well if I lost a lot of weight,” Prince remembered. So he stopped playing basketball and started lifting.
Prince bulked up to 265 pounds, and on the first day coaches could call, he found himself with offers from Maryland, Penn State, Virginia and others. By the time he was a junior, all the college coaches knew Prince. He was ready for a big junior season, poised to validate all the attention thanks to another year of strength and stamina and understanding.
Then, in the Raiders’ first game of the season, someone fell on Prince’s ankle. It snapped, and Prince needed surgery that knocked him out of seven games.
“I cried every game,” Prince remembered. “I just wanted to play.”
But as injuries go, a clean ankle break isn’t the worst a lineman can suffer. And it didn’t hurt his recruiting, either: A day after he got out of surgery, Tennessee extended an offer.
By season’s end he was back, and though Prince — who plays on the offensive and defensive lines for the Raiders — wanted in on every snap, Green worked him back in slowly.
Caution couldn’t hurt for the Raiders (6-4), who were in the midst of an uncharacteristically tough season. Prince’s wasn’t the only injury, as running back Mike Mofor missed four games, too. Roosevelt was banged up and unlucky: three of the team’s four 2013 losses came by eight points or fewer.
“It was disappointing,” quarterback Teke Carlson said. “We had much higher expectations.”
But this season, Carlson, Mofor, Prince and the rest of a loaded senior class are back, fueled through workouts by the idea of avenging last year’s disappointments by reclaiming the Raiders’ more familiar spot in the Prince George’s County top four.
Prince, who will make unofficial visits to Alabama, Auburn, and Florida next week, says he’s narrowed his list to six: those three schools and Maryland, Tennessee and Ohio State.
“It’s tough to narrow the list, it’s a lot of great schools, but at the same time, you know what kind of environment you want to be in,” Prince said. “My sophomore year, I didn’t expect this. I thought Maryland was going to be my only offer, and then I had five. It was unreal, I don’t know how.”
With unofficial visits and official visits still to come, Prince’s decision isn’t imminent. For now, he’ll focus on anchoring a Roosevelt line that should be one of the most formidable in Prince George’s County 4A, especially with players like seniors Deondre Whyte and Emmanuel Eto’o — both 6-2 seniors with experience — coming back, too. So the bumps and bruises of 2013 may not prove to be such a bad thing, after all.
“We definitely use (last season),” Prince said, before sinking into a tired post-practice squat. “It’s fuel.”
Check out AllMetSports’s recruit watch for more on the area’s top football prospects in the class of 2015.