NCF On The Trail: Maryland Terrapins

Maryland and Rutgers are entering their first season as members of the Big Ten Conference, and there are plenty of challenges ahead of both programs on the field. Joining the conference also means there will be new roadblocks on the recruiting trail.

Both programs have dealt with Big Ten schools invading their home states, but now that they are conference foes it becomes imperative they land their in-state recruiting targets.

Being able to fight off the competition means knowing who the competition is and the landscape for both programs. Here is a look at what Maryland and Rutgers are up against.

Notebook: IMG 7v7 Championship 

June, 23, 2014
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The IMG 7v7 National Championship held at IMG Academy over the weekend featured some of the top 7-on-7 teams from all over the country and even a few teams from Canada. The event, which included 12 prospects ranked in the top 50 of the ESPN 300, showcased some of the best talent you will find in a single tournament. Led by Alabama verbal commits Calvin Ridley and Shawn Burgess-Becker, the Florida Fire from South Florida defeated Tampa’s Unsigned Preps 20-18 in the championship game to take home the title.

Quarterbacks shine

There were several high-profile quarterbacks in attendance, and they lived up to the hype for the most part. Deondre Francois, who recently transferred to IMG Academy, made numerous impressive throws. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound signal-caller has a top three of Oregon, Auburn and Florida State and is planning to make his decision at the end of July.


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Top Big Ten recruiters 

June, 9, 2014
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Want to dominate on the recruiting trail in Big Ten territory? You better be long in experience because the conference’s best have lengthy track records that often stretch for more than a decade. These rankings are dominated by three Ohio State assistants, which might explain why the Buckeyes always manage to reel in plenty of ESPN 300 prospects.


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Momentum seems to be building for creating an early signing period in college football. The Conference Commissioners Association will discuss the idea as part of its agenda at a meeting later this month.

As with many things in life, the devil is in the details. The ACC recommended an early signing date of Aug. 1. The SEC at its meetings last month came out against changing the recruiting calendar, but would like to use the Monday after Thanksgiving if an early signing period does happen.

The Big Ten has not endorsed a specific stance on an early signing date as a conference. Based on interviews given to ESPN.com and other media outlets, most league coaches are in favor of it. Again, though, preferences on the when and the how differ.

Several coaches support the junior college signing period of mid-December as the right time to allow high school prospects who don't want to wait until February to sign their national letters of intent.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsIowa's Kirk Ferentz is among the Big Ten coaches who favor an early signing period after the regular season.
"To me, that would be the perfect time," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said last summer. "I still don't understand the resistance. All it is is an opportunity to sign. They don't have to sign. I don't think anyone is going to lose a scholarship. It just gives everyone a chance to lay their cards on the table and say, 'I'm 100 percent sure now' or, 'Still not quite there.' That would be great for both parties, I think."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio are among others who back an early signing period in December.

"It sure would clear up recruiting for a lot of us," Andersen told ESPN.com. "In my opinion, if a kid's committed, let's have him go to the school where he wants to go, and we'll move on in recruiting and get the guys we want. I think it's the most logical answer."

A possible downside of having the early signing period in December would be that it puts more pressure on coaches to concentrate on recruiting late in the season, when championships could be on the line, or during bowl preparation. In-season recruiting pressures would grow even higher with the SEC's post-Thanksgiving recommendation.

Most who favor an early signing period say their schools and coaching staffs are spending too much valuable time, money and energy trying to re-recruit players who might have signed earlier. That's why some coaches, such as Indiana's Kevin Wilson, support a signing date before or right at the beginning of the season.

"I had guys who were committed in the summer who in the last weekend [before the February signing date] changed their minds," Wilson told ESPN.com. "It would be nice if there was an early signing period on the first of September. I don't know if we've got to move the calendar up, but we waste a lot of time and a lot of money babysitting kids who have made their decisions."

Michigan is one school that could have benefited in recent seasons from an early signing period. The Wolverines have sewn up the majority of their classes under Brady Hoke in the summer before the prospects' senior year of high school. Hoke's staff could have locked up those commitments and focused on filling out the final few spots or moving on to the following year's class.

Hoke would like to see an early signing date, but with a caveat.

"If there's an early signing period, there probably needs to be an early visitation period for those kids," he told ESPN.com. "Maybe the first two weeks in June to get on your campus."

That's a big deal for Big Ten coaches, who would love to see prospects be able to take official visits before the start of their senior year. An early signing date without an earlier visit calendar could put the league at a disadvantage against schools in more talent-rich areas. (We'll look more closely at this issue on Thursday in the blog.)

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesNebraska's Bo Pelini says allowing earlier official visits must be a part of any move toward an early signing period.
Nebraska's Bo Pelini has said he would not support an earlier signing date without those earlier visits (and even then, he said he would need more time to study the issue). Schools such as Nebraska and Minnesota, which are farther away from talent-rich hubs, simply wouldn't see many benefits to an early signing day if the rest of the recruiting calendar remained the same. Players in blue chip-heavy areas -- such as the South, Texas and California -- would be more apt to take unofficial visits at schools closer to home and then could get pressured into signing before they ever made a trip up north.

Ohio State under Urban Meyer has thrived during the final weeks of recruiting before the February signing day, as his staff has built a reputation of being great "closers." So it's no surprise that Meyer was one of three SEC coaches to vote against a proposal to support an early signing date in 2008, when he was still at Florida. Meyer said at the time that "recruiting should be done in December, January and February. I think [an early date] speeds up 17- and 18-year-olds to make a decision that affects the rest of their lives."

Maryland's Randy Edsall has proposed that schools shouldn't even send out any type of scholarship offer until Sept. 1 of a high school prospect's senior year in high school, and then those offers would come from the university's admissions office, not the coaches. That would slow things way down and make sure prospects have achieved the necessary test scores and admission standards. Yet Edsall also said this spring that if recruiting continues at its current accelerated pace, that "there definitely has to be an early signing period."

There are other issues with the early signing date, including what protection the players would have if the coach left for another job after they signed. Plus plans change in recruiting all the time.

"I see the pluses and the minuses with it," Dantonio told ESPN.com. "If you have a committed guy and he signs with you, he truly is committed. That’s a positive. I also think if you take one quarterback and he thinks he’s the only one, and all of a sudden you take two, how does that all play out?

"I do think it keeps people from poaching off you, whether it be us poaching off somebody or somebody else [poaching]. It makes people hold to their word. If they don't want to sign then, they’re still open, and you know they’re open. But I would make it a mid-December type deal. I’m not in favor of August; I'm not in favor of September. I'm in favor of, ‘They've had a chance to at least visit and be on campus a couple places, so they have a feel.’”

College football does appear headed for an early signing date soon, if only the details can get ironed out.

"We get into these discussions, and everybody kind of has their own agenda of what's in the best interests for their school," Penn State coach James Franklin told ESPN.com. "But for a lot of different reasons, an early signing period makes sense for everybody."
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Neither Maryland nor Rutgers has ever had a recruiting class ranked in the top 20 by ESPN.com. Both programs, however, believe they can boost their recruiting fortunes as Big Ten members.

Geographically, both universities have talent-rich areas surrounding them that produce top prospects year after year. The states in close proximity to Rutgers and Maryland were home to 25 ESPN 300 prospects in 2014 and have 21 in the 2015 class.

There has always been a selling point to local prospects to stay close to home, but now with a new conference, Maryland coach Randy Edsall believes it’s an even bigger draw.


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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: With coaches on the road visiting high schools in the spring, they bump into prospects all the time wearing gear of a rival school. So does that make coaches think differently of those prospects? Plus, one of the nation's top quarterbacks makes his decision Friday.


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CLIFTON, Va. -- Five-star defensive tackle Tim Settle, No. 10 in the ESPN 300, will not be making an early commitment, that much has been known from the start. What is also known about Settle is that he intends to go through the entire process and take all five of his official visits.

What wasn’t known is that Settle has started to think about what schools will make the cut.

“I’m going to trim it down in August to 14,” said Settle, who earned an invitation to The Opening Saturday after a stellar performance at the Nike Football Training Camp at Centreville High School in Clifton, Va. “The reason I’m going to trim it down in August is two-a-days and getting ready for the season. I don’t want a lot of pressure on me. I just want to play and have fun my senior season.


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SUGAR HILL, Ga. -- The Class of 2015 was well represented at the Elite 11 competition here on Friday. One of the most talented on hand was Washington, D.C., signal-caller Nick Johns.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound pocket passer has been entertaining offers from Maryland, Virginia and NC State, but his offer list will likely grow in the near future.


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SUGAR HILL, Ga. -- With the world’s busiest airport down the road, quarterbacks from across the country flocked to the Atlanta Elite 11 regional camp on Friday at Gary Pirkle Park, including several highly regarded passers from outside the Southeast.

Part of that group was Indianapolis Decatur Central’s Tommy Stevens. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Stevens traveled more than 500 miles, but it was worth every mile because he proved he has the tools to compete with the best of the best.


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Altanta Elite 11 regional camp notebook 

March, 21, 2014
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SUGAR HILL, Ga. -- Several talented quarterbacks took the field at the Atlanta Elite 11 regional camp on Friday. Though no official invites for the Elite 11 finals, held in Beaverton, Ore. in July, were extended, there were five finalists with potential to eventually earn an invite. The finalists included Anthony Ratliff, Austin King, Kendall Hinton, Ross Trail and Alex Malzone. Four of the five finalists were from out-of-state. King is from Alpharetta, Ga.


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Signing day wrap: ACC

February, 5, 2014
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Signing day is known for the crazy. Condense an entire college football season into 12 hours and that offers a glimpse -- albeit minimally -- into the first Wednesday of February.

It began with ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield), arms folded and chest out, announcing his intention to sign with Michigan State. His intention to sign. A glare from his parents and whispers in the gym let it be known this saga was not going to end at 10 a.m. in front of a microphone.

Both of McDowell’s parents would like to see their son, No. 60 in the ESPN 300, at any school in his top four not nicknamed the Spartans. Florida State is among those finalists, and several predicted the Seminoles would land McDowell considering his parents' distaste for all things Green. So Jimbo Fisher and those inside Doak Campbell are keeping the fax machine plugged in, offering a few more hours' respite from the storage closet for the condemned technology.

Ultimately, McDowell, whether of his own volition or executing his parents’ will, did not fax a letter of intent to Michigan State as of 8:00 p.m. ET, and the Noles finished signing day with the No. 3 class sans another elite lineman.

Compared to the McDowell drama, the rest of the morning was tame for the ACC. There were some tense moments, but signing day pretty much went the way most expected.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Nnadi
John Albright/Icon SMIGetting ESPN 300 DE Derrick Nnandi on Wednesday helped make national signing day successful for Florida State.
No team had more of an opportunity to close strong than the Noles, and Fisher did a fine job closing. It was unrealistic to expect Florida State to land every recruit on the board, five-star Lorenzo Carter (signed with Georgia) and No. 1 receiver Malachi Dupre (LSU) among them. However, into the fold for Florida State was ESPN 300 linemen Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes), Roderick Johnson (Florissant, Mo./Hazelwood Central) and Derrick Kelly Jr. (Quincy, Fla./East Gadsden), who was poised to sign with Florida but gave his commitment at the 11th hour.

Florida State was involved with a handful of signing day flips, but none that caught the Noles’ staff off-guard. No. 7 dual-threat quarterback Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) switched to Florida and Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) signed with South Carolina, but the Noles flipped Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen), No. 117 in the ESPN 300. Harrison was committed to Virginia Tech for 18 months before his signing day change of heart. Harrison, ranked as an athlete, finalized what could be the best receiver class in the country. It was one of the best classes nationally, too.

“We’ve had large numbers this year, got needs all the way across the board and filled it with great players and everyone position across the board we had somebody in,” Jimbo Fisher said at his signing day news conference. “We were excited about that.”

Miami’s flipping efforts went for naught, but it prevented one of its own from changing allegiances. Local defensive end Chad Thomas (Miami/Booker T. Washington), ranked No. 3 among Hurricanes commits, took late official visits to Alabama and Florida State. There was some panic from fans when Thomas’ fax did not roll through exactly at 9 a.m., but Canes coach Al Golden said Thomas’ mother reassured him the 65th-ranked player in the country would stay near South Beach.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney would scoff at the claim FSU has the best receiver class. The Noles received the signing day pats on the back for landing No. 2 receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead) and Harrison on Wednesday while the Tigers had three four-star receivers already on campus. ESPN 300 receivers Demarre Kitt (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek), Artavis Scott (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) and four-star Kyrin Priester (Snellville, Ga./Fork Union) enrolled in early January. ESPN 300 receiver Trevion Thompson (Durham, N.C./Hillside) signed Wednesday.

“It was a critical need for us ... and we are excited about all four,” Swinney said at his signing day news conference.

Mike London had a quiet signing day in his Charlottesville office, but that is all he could have hoped for following a winless ACC campaign. The Virginia coach did most of his 2014 recruiting work before the 2013 season, and he was able to secure the signatures of five-star Quin Blanding (Virginia Beach, Va./Bayside) and ESPN 300 recruits Jeff Farrar (Upland, Calif./Upland), Jamil Kamara (Virginia Beach, Va./Bishop Sullivan) and Steven Moss (Fredericksburg, Va./Chancellor High).

“Obviously keeping the class was important when the season didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to ... but the in-state kids wanted to play together and build a brand together,” London said on the ESPNU signing day telecast.

While the day was quiet for Duke, it was still most the shocking signing day Durham has ever seen. The Blue Devils, coming off a 10-win season and an ACC title game, signed its first ESPN 300 recruit and four four-star recruits overall. Between 2010 and 2013, Duke signed only one four-star prospect -- a kicker.

While the ACC did not touch the SEC in the number of teams toward the top of the class rankings, for the most part the conference as a whole improved, and Florida State went a long way in challenging Alabama to become college football’s next dynasty.

ESPN 300 OT stays home, picks Terps 

February, 5, 2014
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Maryland coach Randy Edsall and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley can breathe a sigh of relief. Top uncommitted offensive tackle Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara), the No. 26-ranked player overall in the ESPN 300, signed with the Terrapins on Wednesday in a televised announcement on ESPNU.


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Bold predictions: ACC 

February, 4, 2014
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It is becoming a bit cliché, but the saying holds true every year on the first Wednesday of February: Expect the unexpected on signing day.

With the direction signing day and recruiting have been going, a prospect simply signing his letter of intent to the college he has been committed to for months qualifies as a mild surprise.

Here are five bold predictions for ACC signing day.


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Key recruiting visits -- ACC 

January, 31, 2014
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Signing day is now officially less than a week away. Recruits can make their final visits to colleges this weekend, and then beginning Monday there will be no more in-person contact between coaches and recruits. So coaches better make these last visits count.

Here are the 10 biggest visits affecting ACC teams this weekend, although this late to signing day there is always a potential for a change of plans or cancellation.

1. WR Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis)
Visiting: UCLA
Florida State is feeling confident, but the Noles probably were hoping to get Dupre, No. 17 in the ESPN 300, for his last visit. Instead he visited Ole Miss during the middle of this week and now goes to UCLA. The Noles would have preferred to turn this into a FSU-LSU battle, but these last two visits could really muddy the waters for the nation’s top-ranked receiver.


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video This is part of a series on the nation's top uncommitted recruits leading up to signing day. Click here for the full series.

FORESTVILLE, Md. -- The D & S General Store is the type of place you would expect to find Willie Prince. There was a charm in the worn-out shingles and the chicken-and-waffles special, a reprieve from the big, corporate gas stations throughout the rest of the Beltway. There are just two tightly packed gas pumps and payment is only accepted inside, a homage to the human touch of the local general store of Prince’s upbringing.

Nobody there called him Willie Prince, though. Nobody around town did, for that matter. He was Mr. Prince or Pops, Sgt. Prince or Dad.

“That was probably a daily routine for him, to stop at the gas station,” Damian Prince said.

[+] EnlargeDamian Prince
Jared Shanker/ESPNThe D&S General Store in Mitchellville, Md., is a throwback to a different era, and Willie Prince was a regular customer.
For?

He grins. “Playing numbers,” he said.

It was one of Prince’s fondest memories of his great grandfather -- Dad, as he knew him. Before Damian Prince turned into a hulking 6-foot-6, 305-pound offensive tackle and the 26th-ranked senior in the 2014 ESPN 300, the two might stop at D & S for a lottery ticket and some banter before practice.

Flashbacks to those memories were changed forever on Nov. 28, 2011.

A look in his eye

LaKeyia Chappell was determined to have a son. Her first three children were all girls, but she needed a boy.

“I wasn’t gonna stop until I got one,” she said.

She finally gave birth to Damian DeVaughn Prince II in April 1996. He looked just like Damian’s father, Mr. Prince’s grandson.

“[Mr. Prince] had this look in his eye that was just like, 'Wow.' I was giving them something that had been taken away from [them],” Chappell said.

Five months earlier, Damian DeVaughn Prince I, Damian’s biological father, was shot and killed. No arrests were made, and to this day, Chappell seeks clarity.

At the time, Chappell was living in southeast Washington, D.C., in one of the city’s roughest neighborhoods. She raised Damian as an infant, but without a male role model in the home and the inner-city streets only a few feet from her doorstep, beckoning to swallow another impressionable young son, Chappell sat down with Mr. Prince and Damian’s great grandmother, Jean. They offered to take Damian into their home in the Maryland suburb of Mitchellville.

“There wasn’t a whole lot for me to think about,” Chappell said.

Damian called Mr. Prince his "dad" from the time he was born. He is the only father Damian ever knew. He reflected several times on how lucky he was that Mr. Prince and his wife opened their home to him.

[+] EnlargeDamian Prince
Tom Hauck for Student SportsDamian Prince blossomed into one of the top offensive line prospects in the country, and will choose between Florida and Maryland on national signing day.
Whatever Damian needed, Mr. Prince was there. He would drop him off at school before going to work as a police officer at the Washington D.C. Veteran Affairs Medical Center. During basketball season, Mr. Prince would leave work and get home at 6:30 p.m. to have Damian back at the school by 7. A boxer in the military, Mr. Prince didn’t have any background in basketball. But Damian’s basketball coaches opened the floor to Mr. Prince at the end of every practice, begging him to address the team.

“Coach would ask, ‘Dad, you having anything to say?’ And he always knew what to say and how to say it,” Damian said.

A star basketball player in the youth ranks, Mr. Prince approached Damian about playing football before his eighth-grade season. Damian brushed it off, wanting to stick with basketball, as some of the area’s most prestigious basketball programs were recruiting him. Mr. Prince insisted.

“Ninety-five percent of the time he was always right,” Damian said.

Damian became a football player, and will commit to either Florida or Maryland at 10:25 a.m. on national signing day, Feb. 5, on ESPNU at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md.

'Daddy gone'

Myron Jeter worked the same shift with Mr. Prince for a decade, and they were close. On the evening of Nov. 28, 2011, Mr. Prince’s shift ended at 7 p.m., but he stuck around, trading fishing stories with Jeter, joking he’d bunk with Jeter’s family in Amelia, Va., to fish for Atlantic croaker.

“He said, ‘Don’t be surprised if I’m on your porch when you get there,’ ” Jeter recalled.

It would be one of the last times anyone would talk to Mr. Prince. When Jeter came in the next morning, a co-worker met him at the gate. “Daddy gone,” he told him.

Mr. Prince left an hour after his shift ended, prompting a call from his daughter to Jeter at about 8:20. He told her Mr. Prince had just left and should be home in the next few minutes. On his way home, Mr. Prince made a stop at the D & S General Store. As he left, a car was stalled across the street of Maryland Route 193, a two-lane highway aligned with horse barns and lavish two- and three-story homes.

[+] EnlargeDamian Prince
Jared Shanker/ESPNWillie Prince was struck by a car when helping a stranded motorist on a Maryland road on Nov. 28, 2011.
The oldest of 13 kids and a Korean War veteran, it was Mr. Prince’s nature to help, “even if you weren’t blood,” Damian said. He helped the owner of the disabled vehicle jump-start his car, but as Mr. Prince walked back across the street, an oncoming vehicle struck the altruistic 78-year-old.

Damian was at home playing video games when his best friend and neighbor knocked at his door.

“Is Pops home?” It was more prayer than question.

The neighbor saw Mr. Prince’s car outside D & S, with him nowhere to be found and an ambulance speeding toward Prince George’s Community Hospital.

Damian and his Aunt Donna were the first to arrive, where they saw the car that hit Mr. Prince.

“It looked like they had hit a wall,” Damian said.

Willie Prince was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Devastated their beloved patriarch was lost, there was comfort among family and friends that Mr. Prince died the way he lived.

“He’s been taking care of people his whole entire life,” Damian said.

Said Jeter: “The thing that eased my mind was he pretty much died doing what he did. He didn’t care who needed it -- if he had it, you got it.”

“That wasn’t a fluke or anything; that was just him,” said Tommie Boozer, another VA officer.

The hospital allowed family members to go into the room and say their goodbyes to Mr. Prince. Damian never got out of the waiting room chair, though. He lost the only father he ever knew, 15 years after losing the one he never met.

“Me, I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t strong enough for that,” he said.

‘I wouldn’t attribute it to anything else’

The death came at the end of Prince’s sophomore season. The summer before a prospect's junior season is an important one for football recruits as they look to build a national profile and offer sheet. But Damian wasn’t interested.

“Losing Mr. Prince, it was different. It changed him for a while,” Chappell said. “He didn’t want to play football anymore. He was losing his drive.”

After all, it was Mr. Prince who guided Damian to football. By bringing Damian into his home, it kept Prince away from the D.C. streets that often turned teenagers into troublemakers. With Mr. Prince, the only time he called Chappell to tell her Damian was giving him trouble was when Damian would spend his weekly lunch money allowance by Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t attribute [Damian staying out of trouble] to anything else other than Mr. Prince,” Bishop McNamara athletic director Anthony Johnson said.

Damian returned to the football field in August 2012, knowing that’s what Mr. Prince would have wanted. And the first game of the season happened to fall on Mr. Prince’s birthday. He wore No. 79 instead of his normal No. 55 to honor him.

Damian wishes his great grandfather was once again there to mentor and offer advice. He could use his wisdom to whittle more than 40 scholarship offers to the only one that matters.

“Anyone who knows me,” he said, “knows he was the dearest person to me.”

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