Isaiah Prince remembered the bitter feeling and the pit in his stomach very vividly.
As Prince and his Buckeye teammates walked off the Ross-Ade Stadium field in West Lafayette, Ind., last Oct. 20, it looked like a deleted scene from “The Walking Dead.’’
Ohio State arrived at Purdue with a 7-0 record and the 3-3 Boilermakers didn’t figure to be a big challenge to the big dogs of the Big Ten. Even when the hosts raced to a 14-3 halftime lead, it barely registered a ripple on the college football radar screen.
But the Boilermakers weren’t to be denied, scoring 35 second-half points and ruining the Buckeyes undefeated dreams and ultimately a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
As much as the loss stung at the time, Prince, the team’s starting right tackle for the last three seasons, and his teammates used it as motivation for the rest of the season. Now his favorite memories include walking off the field after big victories over archrival Michigan and against Washington in the Rose Bowl.
“We feel like we should dominate the Big Ten every year,’’ said Prince, when asked about his team’s mind-set going into the Michigan game, which at the time boasted a 10-1 record and one of the best defenses in the land. “We definitely had a chip on our shoulder, especially with [the Wolverines] talking a lot about us and us [hearing] a lot of criticism. We took that very personally, especially after never losing to them. That’s a rivalry game, the best rivalry in college football. That’s when you see the best in players.’’
Though the Patriots are set at the tackle spot with starters Marcus Cannon on the right and Isaiah Wynn projected to slide on the left side for the departed Trent Brown, the team is looking to replenish its depth chart and Prince is one of a number of attractive mid-round candidates that could fit the bill.
The 6-foot-6-inch, 305-pound Prince is athletic and light on his feet and although he’s been a right-side mainstay, shows the mobility and hand punch power that could allow him to develop into a swing role.
Always a solid player in the run game, Prince made great strides as a pass protector during his time in Columbus, particularly during his senior season as the Buckeyes implemented more run-pass options into their offense.
Prince has a reputation as a leader among his teammates and was lauded for his ability to adapt and for his consistent improvement by Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. Prince is coming from a program that should allow him to transition to an NFL organization — including the Patriots — smoothly.
“Practice every day was a war,’’ Prince said. “If you didn’t show up to practice mentally prepared, you definitely were exposed . . . Every day is serious. Every practice is serious. You go against the best every day. Just the opportunity to grow for the next level every day. You’re playing for something big every day. It’s very important that you pay attention and learn how to contribute.’’
Versatility has long been a hallmark of the Patriots’ success and Prince has the characteristics and skills to play a variety of positions along the offensive line.
“I think what I bring to the NFL is my adaptability,’’ he said. “You put me in any situation, I’ll make the most of it. I’ll make things happen. You put me in at right guard, left guard, left tackle, right tackle, I’ll make the most of it.’’
Prince, a key cog in an offensive line that helped quarterback Dwayne Haskins throw for a Big Ten record 50 touchdowns in 2018, also appears to have the mental toughness to play in the NFL.
“I feel like I’ve had my ups and downs, but I’m grateful for the lessons it taught me,’’ he said. “It definitely prepared me that not everything is going to go your way and you definitely have to be able to handle adversity. I’ve learned that you’re always going to put your best foot forward, but you’re not always going to get the result you want. You have to learn to adapt to the situation.’’
TOP OFFENSIVE LINEMEN IN THE NFL DRAFT
|Andre Dillard||OT||Washington State||6-5||315||4.96||1|
|A tremendous athlete with great size, light feet, and excellent mirror skills. A late bloomer (he didn't start playing football until eighth grade), he is a dogged and studious. Watching tape of Joe Thomas is a favorite hobby.|
|Instinctive and deceptively quick, He rarely makes false steps or misses assignments. Another film room devotee, Williams will get to second level after disengaging from his block. He's a tad light, so he could bump inside to guard.|
|Played both right and left tackle for the Gators and was often dominant in both spots. He's a technically sound player with the lateral quickness to mirror pass rushers and the strength to shoo them away. Will have to watch his weight (he was once as high as 385) at the pro level.|
|A physical specimen with a great hand punch and an aggressive style. Little, who slides effortlessly, played in all 36 games during his college career and was All-SEC this past season. He has quick feet, but his weight (he's been up to 340) will also need watching.|
|A true mountain of a man, McGary has awesome strength and decent athleticism. The four-year starter has the length to ward off speed rushers and the power to steamroll defenders in the run game. Was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and that may scare some teams.|
|Played tackle and guard — and excelled at both — but projects inside as a pro. Has ideal blend of size, strength, and surliness. Has missed time with several injuries (including a broken leg) during his career, so durability is a question.|
|Chris Lindstrom||OG||Boston College||6-3||308||4.91||1|
|Played both right guard and right tackle; known for a nasty on-field disposition that should serve him well in this profession. He's a mauler who will get to the second level consistently. Lacks ideal size and arm length.|
|A savvy and smart athlete, Samia consistently gets under defenders' pads and controls them. Relies more on instincts and presnap reads more than quickness and speed to get the job done.|
|*Ryan Bates||OG||Penn State||6-4||306||5.09||2|
|Did play one season at tackle but appears more comfortable at guard and that's where he'll make his bones. Has good quickness and strength to counter and mute inside pass rushers.|
|A big, rugged mauler who can lock on and dominate defenders in the trenches. Has enough athleticism to pull and trap and get out and lead convoys on screen plays.|
Best of the rest tackles: Chuma Edoga, USC (6-3, 308, 5.19); *David Edwards, Wisconsin (6-6, 308, 5.28); Yodney Cajuste, West Virginia (6-4, 312, N/A); Isaiah Prince, Ohio State (6-6, 305, 5.09); Tytus Howard, Alabama State (6-5, 322, 5.05).
Best of the rest guards: Martez Ivey, Florida (6-5, 315, N/A); Connor McGovern, Penn State (6-5, 308, N/A); Sua Opeta, Weber State (6-4, 301, 5.02); Michael Dieter, Wisconsin (6-5, 309, 5.23); Michael Jordan, Ohio State (6-5, 312, 5.27).