COLLEGE PARK — The first drive of Maryland right tackle Damian Prince's career came during the team's season-opening win over Richmond.
The Terps had the eventual 50-21 win well in hand, and most of the starting skill position players were done for the day. But Prince, the former five-star recruit who was a projected starter before getting hurt in preseason camp, was making his collegiate debut.
A little past the midway point of the fourth quarter, Prince blocked down on the opposing defensive lineman, and quarterback Caleb Rowe took off to the right side before pitching to running back Ty Johnson for the Terps' final score.
When the offensive line returned to the sideline, center Evan Mulrooney saw an excited Prince sitting on the bench saying, "Man, my first drive was a touchdown."
It was his arrival to the college game, and while it didn't come with as much fanfare as his commitment to Maryland, it gave Prince a chance to get his feet under him.
"You just knew from right there this kid loves the game," Mulrooney said. "He's just so happy to be back playing, and he's humbled and excited to start his college career, and then right when I saw that, I said, 'This kid is going to be good down the line.' He really cares about what he's doing."
With Maryland's seniors set to play their final game at Byrd Stadium, some of the attention has already turned to the future of the program. There's uncertainty after an October coaching change, but there's a talented roster, and Prince is a significant part of that.
The Bishop McNamara product is expected to be a cornerstone for years to come.
But his path to the starting right tackle job at Maryland has had its share of difficulties, including injuries this season. Still, Prince has gotten his chances each week against tough competition, and he has grown.
Prince committed on Feb. 5, 2014, making his announcement on ESPN by grabbing a Maryland hat that sat next to Florida and South Carolina hats on a podium. He was the top-ranked player in the Terps' class and one of the nation's top offensive tackles. Some expected him to make an impact right away as a freshman.
But Prince redshirted last season, working on the scout team and adjusting to the speed and power of the college game.
"When guys get recruited the way Damian was recruited, when they come in and redshirt, it's a tough deal for them," interim coach Mike Locksley said. "I know he battled through that mentally last year with not playing for the first time probably in this career, and then he started off the season here in a second-team role, and he continued to fight."
When Maryland's offensive line bulked up in the offseason to continue its adjustment to the Big Ten Conference, Prince was one who made big strides. As a freshman, Maryland listed him at 6 feet 3, 300 pounds. This season, he's listed at 328 pounds, and entering preseason camp, he was listed as Maryland's starting right tackle.
Late in camp, though, Prince was "nicked up," former coach Randy Edsall said, and it knocked him from the starting lineup. Senior Ryan Doyle moved from left guard to right tackle, and sophomore Mike Minter entered the lineup at left guard. Prince still made cameos against Richmond, Bowling Green and South Florida, giving Maryland a glimpse of the complete starting line the Terps expected.
In late September, Minter was lost for the season to a shoulder injury, and Doyle moved back to left guard, which let Prince slide into the starting role at right tackle against West Virginia.
Since then, Prince has made five starts, and his introduction to major college football has been a challenging one.
Prince has faced Ohio State's Joey Bosa, Penn State's Carl Nassib and Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun. He has gone up against Michigan's stout front. He has seen the Big Ten's top units and some of the nation's top talent.
"It's definitely been a great experience," Prince said. "Those are all guys who I don't think there's any question who are going to play at the next level. I feel like it was very important for me, trying to bring some security to me knowing where I am right now, playing up against some great defensive linemen."
When he prepares to face defensive fronts like the one he has seen over the past month or so, Prince has drawn on his experience last season with Maryland's scout team. There, he faced defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue, Roman Braglio and Jesse Aniebonam on a daily basis. Even this year, he said he still goes against Ngakoue — who is poised to set Maryland's single-season sack record — and company three or four times in practice.
So, when Saturdays roll around, there isn't too much he hasn't seen before.
"He's more patient with his sets," Ngakoue said. "He's not scared of a speed rusher. He's big and strong and physical guy, so he can take in when you power him and he can take away your speed just because he's more patient now.
"He's faster, more physical. I'm just happy to see him grow up to be a great player. He's come a long way, a very long way, and I feel like the sky's the limit for him."
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