Success has never gotten to Darius Prince's head. His unconventional path to the Eagles' training-camp roster has a lot to do with that.
The 28-year-old McKeesport native didn't play college football. Instead, he followed his first love: college basketball. He became a standout guard during his three years at Division II Penn State Greater Allegheny, and then played a final season at Penn State Beaver, another D-II program, where he now works as an assistant coach.
Over the last five years, he has bounced around arena football, playing in the National Arena League and the AFL. He found his footing with the Philadelphia Soul and in 2017 was named the league's Arena Bowl MVP.
Now Prince, who signed with the Eagles on Aug. 18, is the latest addition to what seems to be an ever-growing receiving corps, with 14 wideouts now on the roster.
With such competition, Prince is not above playing wherever the team needs him.
"He's a great special teams guy," said Clint Dolezel, head coach of the Soul. "A lot of the times when guys get to stardom, or clout, meaning they're very good football players in our league, they tend to shy away from special teams. He hasn't hit that point. Hopefully, he never does, because that's what's going to give him an opportunity to make it in the NFL."
After the Soul's season ended in the AFL playoffs in July, Prince worked out for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They decided not to move forward. A few days later, he was working out in his basement when he received a phone call out of the blue. The Eagles wanted him to work out. The next week, they signed him.
"I get a call from my agent, Brad Berkowitz, and he's like, 'Welcome to the NFL, my friend,' " Prince said. "Then, my heart just dropped. I wanted to start crying because in that moment everything I worked hard for my whole life, everything I've been through, all of the sacrifices I've made seemed to finally pay off."
Prince's signing is rare, especially this late into training camp. The Eagles offense is much more complex than an AFL offense, and to catch up, Prince's sleep schedule has been reduced to a little less than five hours a night.
"I have to learn on the fly; this is all new to me. I didn't play college football," Prince said. "You have to spend extra time in your playbook. Learning the formations. Learning the plays. Learning where you line up at. It's tough, but it's nothing that I can't handle."
Prince, who is 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, has found that his basketball skills have converted well to football. Prince knows how to space the floor — a basketball fundamental — and that translates well when a receiver is trying to create separation against defensive backs, Dolezel said. Most football players are not taught that. Dolezel thinks it is an asset to Prince's game.
"He is a tight end in a receiver's body," Dolezel said. "He moves well in space, which a lot of guys can't do. Where the basketball comes in is getting separation from DBs [and] being able to do something with it after the ball, because they're real shifty."
Prince isn't the only AFL receiver to sign with an NFL team this season; Malachi Jones, Prince's good friend, signed with the Chicago Bears last month. Prince finished second to Jones in receiving yards in the AFL last season, notching 1,076 to Jones' 1,156.
Prince thinks this indicates that success in the AFL can help a player land on an NFL team's radar.
"I feel like it could be some type of gateway to get to the NFL," Prince said. "Like Coach said today, whatever you put out on the film, that speaks for how you play. So if you go out there and you play arena football and you're killing the league, why not? If you put good game film out there, it speaks for itself. Guys at a higher level, such as the NFL or CFL, will be willing to take a chance on you."
Time is not on Prince's side. The Eagles need to reduce the roster from 90 players to 53 by Sept. 1, and will likely keep only six of the 14 receivers in camp. He knows his chances of making the team are slim, but thinks his hard work will show in his performance.