Isaiah Prince became wistful this week when he thought about playing against Maryland in the final regular-season road game of his Ohio State career.
Prince grew up in Greenbelt, 10 minutes from Maryland Stadium in College Park. As a high-schooler, he often went to Terrapins games. Now he will be returning home to play one last time. So much has happened since those carefree days as a teenager. The right tackle has had many highs and lows as a Buckeye.
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He was offered a scholarship by Maryland, but Prince knew he couldn’t play for a program that didn’t win consistently — he said he is too much of a sore loser for that.
Prince has done plenty of winning at Ohio State. But the expectations as a Buckeye are lofty. When unmet, the pressure-cooker can be overwhelming. Prince endured a difficult sophomore season but rebounded last year to become third-team All-Big Ten. His progress continued this season, with some bumps.
“To be honest, I look back at college and I don’t even know how to describe it, from beginning to end,” Prince said. “It has taught me a lot. I’m grateful. It’s been a lot of ups and downs. It’s definitely been a roller coaster.”
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Prince lived in Brooklyn — he still has a trace of that accent — until he moved with his father, Anthony, to Maryland when he was 8. Prince, now 6 feet 7 and 310 pounds, was always big for his age, and he excelled at football from the start.
In junior high, he shared his football goals with his dad. Isaiah told him that he would earn a football scholarship, become the top prospect in Maryland, attend Alabama and play as a college freshman.
Prince did originally commit to the Crimson Tide before switching to Ohio State. Otherwise, his predictions came true. As a Buckeye, he was the first freshman in his class to earn the removal of his helmet stripe, signifying his status as a full-fledged part of the team.
“I thought it was going to be smooth sailing,” Prince said.
He played in every game that 2015 season and became the starter at right tackle the next year.
End of smooth sailing.
Prince struggled badly at times in 2016, hitting bottom in a loss at Penn State.
“I’ve had a bad game before, so I knew how to bounce back,” he said. “But the criticism, there was no hiding from it. It was everywhere. Like walking to class, I could hear them say it behind my back. I could see the weird looks and feel the energy of people around you. I felt like I was always being judged.”
He got guidance from coaches and teammates, particularly veteran linemates Billy Price, Jamarco Jones and Pat Elflein. But Prince was really the only one who could dig himself out of the hole, and that was hard.
“If I made a mistake, I’d get so down on myself,” he said. “Every time I had a bad play, I’d get down on myself, so I never really bounced back.”
Anthony Prince watched his son struggle and it pained him. Here was his son, who had never given him any trouble, whom he described as a “humble, simple, quiet person who always thinks of other people before he thinks of himself,” as the brunt of criticism.
“I remember many times I went there and after games I had to calm him down and say, ‘Hey, you’re supposed to have fun. Regardless of what happens, have fun,’ ” Anthony Prince said. “It was really, really tough that first year starting.”
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After the season, Prince knew he had to reassess.
“I had to look myself in the mirror and figure out what I was going to do,” he said.
He set weekly and monthly goals. Mostly, he vowed not to let one bad play affect another.
“My junior year, I just focused on going as hard as I can,” he said. “Go as hard as you can and whatever mistakes you make, you make, but you know you’ve played as hard as you can.”
He was vastly improved in 2017. This year, he became one of Ohio State’s seven captains.
“Freshman year, thinking I would be a captain wasn’t something I wouldn’t have been able to foresee,” Prince said. “I was so immature my freshman year. Being elected a captain was a huge moment for me. I was so proud.”
Prince has had his struggles at times this year, especially against Minnesota’s Carter Coughlin, the Big Ten sacks leader. But Prince didn’t let that get him down for long.
After the loss at Purdue, Prince was the player who spoke in the locker room.
“I could see the looks on everybody’s faces,” Prince said. “Everybody was disappointed in themselves that we lost. At Ohio State, we’re not used to losing. But that’s a part of life. Life is adversity. You’re going to get hit. You have to get back up.”
That’s a lesson Prince learned two years ago. He now views that adversity as a blessing.
“I was upset at all the criticism of how I was playing, but it made me who I am today,” he said.
Prince has three siblings, but he considers his teammates to be his brothers as well. The respect is reciprocated.
“He has always been a very good person, great to be around, a great teammate,” coach Urban Meyer said.
Sophomore left tackle Thayer Munford said that Prince has been a big help in his first year as a starter.
“I learned everything from him — how to be confident in my calls, how to be confident in my sets and how not to fold under pressure,” Munford said. “This year, he has been a mentor to every single person. I just love him.”
Prince is trying to savor his remaining time as a Buckeye, knowing that his struggles have only steeled him for the future and that the bonds he has formed will last forever.
“When I look back at being an Ohio State Buckeye, definitely the most important thing to me is the relationships that I’ve gained from being here,” Prince said. “As I get closer to the end of the regular season and just thinking about leaving, I think about my brothers.”