There were a few games last season where Ohio State right tackle Isaiah Prince was a pass-blocking pauper. Everybody remembers the struggles he had against Penn State and Michigan, and if you watched the 2017 NFL Draft, you saw plenty of highlights of drafted players having success against Prince.
Following an offseason of hard work, however, Isaiah Prince can confidently say he is a different player than he was a year ago. And he can say that because of his confidence.
The turning point for Prince last year came after the Michigan game. He gave up a pair of sacks and even though the Buckeyes won the game, it was the culmination of a rough season against OSU’s best opponents. It also gave him plenty of time for reflection until Ohio State’s playoff game.
“After the team up north game I was pretty upset because I gave up two sacks,” he said. “From the time after the game to bowl season, I just realized that you’ve got to put that stuff behind you and work every day to get better. You’re going to make mistakes. It was my first year starting. It was a lot to learn so I just put it all behind me and just keep getting better.”
It’s not an easy thing to move past when there are people reminding you of your struggles every day via social media. It became easier, however, when Prince and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa went back and looked at why he struggled. He had issues with technique and fundamentals. Correcting those issues was a necessary step toward rebuilding his confidence.
“The challenge is to show him why he made the mistakes,” Studrawa explained. “Because it’s like anything else, when guys start making mistakes, the first thing they do is they get down on themselves. What you’ve got to do is revert back to your training and trust your technique. That was his first time starting and he made some mistakes. He saw those, he’s worked on those. He’s watched the film. He’s studied it. And now the difference in the kid is…his attention to details in the little things is not even close to where it was last year. He’s focused, he’s determined, and those are the things that make the difference.”
Last year was difficult for Prince because he was still learning how to be a starter. Neither Urban Meyer or Ed Warinner ever wavered in their support of Prince as the Buckeyes’ right tackle. And even after an extremely rough performance against Michigan, Meyer sat Prince down and told him that he still believes in him. Meyer let him know that the staff still trusted him and they knew mistakes would happen.
That talk alone helped Prince to realize that what he was going through wasn’t all that unusual. It led to a very good performance against Clemson.
Through it all, Prince has also had his teammates there to lift him up. Every step of the way.
“We all make mistakes, we all give up sacks, we all miss blocks,” senior left tackle Jamarco Jones said. “It takes the other four guys sometimes to pick up the one guy who messed up on the one play. You’ve just got to be able to move forward. You’ve got to be able to pick your brother up. There’s no blaming going on. Everybody messes up, you can’t blame someone for something. You’ve got to try and figure out the problem and move on.”
Isaiah Prince is a better player than he was last year in any number of respects. His technique has improved, as has his understanding of the smaller details of the position he plays. He also knows now not to let one bad play lead to others. While the technique improvement comes from his own hard work, the confidence that he now possesses comes from everyone around him, especially his teammates.
“I think it is impossible to build that on your own,” Prince said. “You’ve got to have people around you to help you get better. Jamarco, Coach Stud, Billy (Price), even when Pat (Elflein) was still here, it just helped me every day to keep my head up and just letting me know that they still trust me to be out there starting with them. And to me that was the biggest factor in boosting my confidence.”
The new-found confidence for Prince should not be ignored. It certainly has not gone unnoticed by his head coach.
“He’s one of the most improved players on the team right now, and that’s A to Z,” Meyer said. “That’s not just out there in practice, but with Coach Mick, and all the things he’s struggled with. He’s a very serious player right now.”
By all accounts, Isaiah Prince is a different player than he was a year ago. He credits his teammates with picking him up when he was down, but he is also a more mature player than he was last season. This is his third year in the program and he is entering his second season as a starter.
This is the year he should move past his 2016 struggles. Unfortunately for him, he still can’t walk two feet without being asked about them. But this is also where his confidence and maturity show up off the field.
When asked if he was tired of talking about last year, he provided a very mature and confident answer.
“Am I tired of it? I don’t mind,” he said. “I learned a lot from last year. Without last year I wouldn’t have had this growth, so I’m thankful for it.”