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June 13, 2013

Prince fights way through sadness

MORE: Complete Five-Star Challenge coverage

CHICAGO -- Damian Prince wants to talk about football. He wants to discuss about his recruitment. He wants to break down his 34 scholarship offers. He wants to talk about campus visits.

His outlook is a break from the norm for elite high school prospects. Most become bogged down by the process and grow weary of answering the same questions.

Prince is the exception. Mostly because any bit of light recruiting chatter allows him to avoid having another conversation about death. See, Prince is acutely aware of his own mortality. Maybe more so than any high school student should be.

He's seen three family members pass away in the past year. He's lost his grandmother and his great grandfather, each of whom joined Prince's mother as co-guardians for a period of time. Most recently, it was his 84-year-old great grandmother, who lost a six-month battle with liver cancer weeks ago.

"We knew she had a certain amount of time," Prince said. "So I was going, talking to her all the time and spending as much time with her as possible. It kind of messed me up with football. I'm trying to do one thing, but I was just worried about how my mother was feeling and my brothers and everything like that. Even when she was sick, I couldn't get ahead. There was just a lot on my plate."

The streak of personal tragedy is not spectacular. It's not even particularly unique. These things happen. They're part of life. But when Prince, a 295-pound monster of a man, tells you it has affected his development as a player, it's hard to fathom. The Forestville (Md.) Bishop McNamara standout is a five-star recruit and ranked as the No. 10 overall prospect in America. His is not the look of a man battling stunted growth.

Still, everything Prince has done for the past calendar year has been accomplished amid endless distraction. He's spent more time helping his mother by watching his nephews than he has hitting a sled. And when you consider that, you wonder exactly what he could become.

"I don't know the dates of the deaths in his family or any of that stuff, but I know he was unable to do many camps in the past," said Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. "I think he's just now starting to see how valuable these camps can be. I think he's a little bit raw -- and I know he's 10th in the country -- but he's raw in a camp setting when compared to some of these other kids that have been doing it for three or four years."

"His ceiling is ridiculous. It's just endless. "

And yet Prince stands in the lobby of a Chicago hotel, one of a select few participants in the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by Under Armour -- a true blue-chip recruit who will attend the college of his choice free of charge. Prince's father would be proud if he ever got the chance to meet his son.

Damian Prince looks just like his father. The lineman has a picture of him uploaded to his phone and shows off to facial similarities to anyone who asks about his bloodline. Prince, himself, has only seen him in photos.

"I feel like we look just alike," Prince said, as he called up photo from his iPhone. "He was about 6-foot-6. Our faces look alike, too."

In high school, Prince's father was a football star. The frame he showcases in photographs makes that no surprise. He was shot to death a month or so before Prince was born.

"He was a football player like me in high school, but he just got mixed up with the wrong people," Prince said, still glancing down at the picture of his mother and father posed in front of their former Washington, D.C., home.

Prince uses the mistakes of a man he's never met as teaching moments. He says he plays to honor his father's memory and to achieve the football future that his dad never had the chance to live. At the same time, though, he sees the story as a precautionary tale. He's unfamiliar with many of the details that surrounded the murder, as his mother doesn't like to discuss it.

Still, he knows enough. Nobody has to tell Prince how quickly football -- and life in general, for that matter -- can evaporate. The opportunity in front of him is one he does not intend to waste.

"The fact that he lost about 40 pounds because he knew he had to get more athletic and agile says a lot," Farrell said. "He basically did that on his own. I mean, he has coaches and trainers and whatever, but he had to make a commitment to that. That speaks to his desire and his upside."

And so Prince's purpose in Chicago was simple. It's the same mantra he plans to carry through the remainder of his football career.

"I just want to compete and keep the memory of my grandmother, my father, my grandfather and my great-grandmother in the back of my head while I do it," he said.



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