Damian Prince was doing his first one-on-one interview as a professional football player from UPMC Rooney Sports Complex locker room last month, baring his emotions in discussing how he considered quitting football before the Pittsburgh Steelers called to offer him a spot at their rookie minicamp.
And then, in an instant, Prince went from serious and introspective to bursting out laughing.
“He’s always playing around,” the offensive tackle said of his longtime buddy, Derwin Gray, who came over to bust Prince’s chops when he was spotted talking with a reporter.
Gray feigned being a media member, asking Prince a mock question. Prince laughed but ignored Gray’s question and didn’t miss a beat with the reporter. He greeted Gray with an enthusiastic slap-handshake, and the two agreed to head to lunch after the interview.
“We have known each other for a long time,” Prince said of Gray, “so I don’t even pay attention to him anymore when he’s clowning like that.
“It’s really nice to be here with him, though.”
For most of their lives, Gray and Prince have maintained a closeness.
They grew up in southeast Washington D.C. — their families separated by just a few blocks. They attended different high schools, nut Prince (No. 2 in the country) and Gray (No. 9) were two of the most highly rated offensive tackles in the 2013-14 recruiting cycle, according to Rivals.com.
They enrolled at Maryland in 2014, and each redshirted that season before seeing part-time duty the next year. By the end of ‘16, Gray and Prince were there starting tackles for the Terrapins, jobs they held through ‘18.
By way of the draft — Gray was the Steelers’ seventh-round pick — and free agency – Prince impressed in a tryout and was signed after rookie minicamp — the two D.C. boys are together again. This time in Pittsburgh.
“It’s cool any time you’re able to do something like this with someone you grew up with,” Prince said. “It’s something not everyone has and will make the transition a lot smoother.”
Gray and Prince are almost like twins. They speak their own language, as some of their Maryland teammates and coaches told the Big Ten Network in a feature on their bond. It was a friendship forged in a hardscrabble area of the nation’s capital and was nurtured through a tumultuous tenure at Maryland that featured four head coaches and the death of their friend and fellow offensive lineman, Jordan McNair.
“It’s definitely good to have (Prince) here with me. One, because of where we come from, and two, giving him an opportunity for what I believe he’s got,” Gray said. “He’s got God-given ability that he can go play, so I am excited for him, and I am excited he is with me because that means we will do this together.”
Though each has the talent to impress, numbers suggest the odds are against either making the Steelers’ 53-man roster this season. But each is a prime candidate for the practice squad.
— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) May 30, 2019
The 6-4, 320-pound Gray worked at guard and both tackle positions during the Steelers’ organized team activities and minicamp this summer.
A starting right tackle for 2½ years in college, Prince repped at tackle with the Steelers.
“When camp comes, I have to prove that I deserve to be here,” said the 6-3 Prince, who added weight and said he was at 315 pounds at minicamp, “and that I play well enough to stick around.”
As a draft pick, Gray has a tad more job security, but he also believes he fell too far in the draft.
“I really can’t get caught up in the numbers,” Gray said. “I’m just happy to be here and taking full advantage of it.
“Having (Prince) here, that just adds to it.”