Damian Prince was supposed to be one of the building blocks for a Maryland football program seemingly on the upswing. Coach Randy Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley had sold Prince and others on helping turn the Terps around.
That seems like more than five seasons ago.
When Prince and the other seniors take the field at Maryland Stadium for Saturday’s game against No. 10 Ohio State, the rebuilding has been led by two different head coaches, two interim coaches and for Prince, four line coaches.
Edsall is long gone, having been fired at Maryland midway through the 2015 season before returning to Connecticut last year. DJ Durkin, who took over in 2016, was recently fired in the aftermath of offensive lineman Jordan McNair’s death in June.
Locksley, who took over for Edsall for the last six games in 2015, is currently the offensive coordinator at top-ranked Alabama and has been rumored to be a candidate at Maryland along with the team’s current interim coach, Matt Canada.
A team that had two straight 7-6 seasons when Prince first played as a redshirt freshman in 2015 is teetering on the brink of its fourth straight losing season if the Terps can’t beat either the Buckeyes or No. 20 Penn State next week in State College.
Prince said in a telephone interview Wednesday night that he is “going through a multitude of emotions” as he approaches his final home game. “Just making sure I set a good example for the rest of my teammates,” he added.
“Just go out there and give it all I got. Not to give up. Keep going. We have two more games guaranteed and we want to have them turn out as best as possible. I want to treat the last two just like I did the first two.”
The first two in which he played were sort of a microcosm of Prince’s career. In the third game of the 2015 season, he got on the field for some of Maryland’s 35-17 win at South Florida. His first start came the next week in a 45-6 loss at West Virginia.
“That was kind of my real introduction to college football,” Prince said of the game in Morgantown.
Less than a month later, Edsall was fired, beginning the coaching carousel that ultimately claimed Durkin as well as the change in line coaches from Greg Studwara to Dave Borbely to Tyler Bowen and to now Bryan Stinespring.
Prince has also protected nine different quarterbacks and blocked for more than a dozen running backs and fullbacks. The 6-foot-3-inch, 320-pound offensive tackle has missed just a handful of games.
“To miss five or six games in four seasons, I don’t think that’s bad. All things considered, if you took the number of offensive lineman who played game and every snap in four years, the list wouldn’t be very long,” he said.
There was some speculation that Prince, who came to Maryland as the No. 2 offensive tackle in the country, would leave after the 2017 season since he was projected as a mid-to-late-round draft pick.
Prince has no regrets staying, even with the tragedy of McNair’s death and the turmoil surrounding Durkin, who was placed on administrative leave in mid-August amid allegations of a “toxic” environment and fired after briefly reinstated.
But Prince and fellow senior offensive tackle Derwin Gray came back with the idea of finishing their respective careers with a second bowl appearance. While that is still possible, the odds are not in their favor.
“Everything happens for a reason, and a good reason at that,” Prince said. “I think things worked out the way they were supposed to work out. ... We were brought back here to endure everything everyone else at the university had to go through this season.”
While the offensive line has played well against some of Maryland’s weaker opponents and struggled against the elite teams in the Big Ten, Canada is appreciative of what seniors like Prince have endured.
Canada is also empathetic to what the seniors in general have witnessed, having been on the other side of leaving teams for new jobs six times in the past eight years, with the possibility out there that it might happen again after the season.
Spelling out all the coaching changes the current group of seniors have experienced, Canada said, “I’m really, really proud of them. The leadership they have shown this year — which is all I can speak to — [and] the job they have done to hang together … those kids deserve to be honored by the program.”
Even with all this year’s group of seniors faced even before their senior year, nothing could have prepared them for the last five months, Canada said.
“We all go through things in life and it all builds who we are,” Canada said. “I think our kids have been through challenges. I don’t think anything they’ve been through, I don't think you can compare it to what they’ve been through this year with the loss of Jordan. That was something they shouldn’t have had to go through.
“But I think what they’ve done, how they’ve led, a lot of people wrote this football team off [in] August. Probably not going to win a game, the program’s going to fall apart. And the seniors did not let that happen. So they deserve all the credit for that. How can you not say what a great job they’ve done because they held it together.”
“Us being seniors, being older guys, it was definitely a good thing for the team to have guys like me and Derwin who’ve been around the program for a long time and have seen a lot,” Prince said. “To be able to give positive advice to guys who don’t know if this is normal or not. Things worked out just like they were supposed to.”