At K-State, preseason expectations are high for newcomer Byron Pringle, a 22-year old sophomore wide receiver with loads of talent and a checkered past. And Pringle is not shying away from those expectations. Nor is he shying away from how he has been treated so far at K-State.
“If I could tell K-State fans anything, it would be that I love their support, Pringle said Saturday at the Wildcats’ media day. “They give me no negative vibes about what happened in the past. They never ask me about any of that. I love that they just accepted me like family.”
Manhattan feels like home to Pringle. He feels strange admitting that, partly because this small college town in the Flint Hills is nothing like the beaches and skyscrapers he grew up looking at in Tampa, Fla. But also because he wasn’t sure any community would embrace him after he was arrested for a series of crimes in high school.
When he was 16, Pringle was charged with a series of crimes, including burglary, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and grand theft, according to Hillsborough County (Fla.) court documents. His punishment: four years probation and 100 hours of community service.
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That forced him to miss his junior season of football in high school before returning to the team as a senior. He has since served his probation and bounced around colleges. He originally signed with Youngstown State in 2012, but he never showed up because of what he labeled “academic issues.”
He was later arrested in 2013 and charged with robbery by sudden snatching, but those charges were dropped, opening the door for a football re-emergence at Butler Community College in Kansas. He made the most of the opportunity, catching 28 passes for 432 yards and nine touchdowns.
That led to an even bigger opportunity at K-State and the chance to reunite with receivers coach Andre Coleman, the man who recruited him at Youngstown State. Once again, Pringle appears to be taking advantage, on and off the field.
“Here’s how many issues we have had with Byron: zero,” Coleman said. “In fact, we have had professors on campus talk about how great of a kid he is and how pleasant of a kid he is to have in the classroom.
“Ask anyone who has had any interaction with him, and they will to you that he is a great young man.”
Pringle, who is 6 feet 2, 205 pounds, performed so well in the classroom that he made the Big 12 commissioner’s honor roll.
“That brought tears to my eyes,” Pringle said. “That meant so much. I want to be a role model for my nieces and nephews. That is the biggest thing to me. Some of them don’t have role models.”
As far as football is concerned, K-State’s quarterbacks view Pringle as a dangerous offensive player. After failing to complete 50 percent of their throws to an injured and uninspiring group of receivers last year, they now have supreme confidence in Pringle.
He was the runaway star of the spring game, catching nine passes for 163 yards and a touchdown, and he continues to be a playmaker in practice.
“The thing that impresses me the most about him is how much of a natural playmaker he is,” K-State quarterback Jesse Ertz said. “He is big, he can run and he is motivated. The biggest thing, to me, is his ability to go get the ball, to make plays when he is covered. All you have to do is just give him a chance and he can make something happen. That’s not something you can really teach.”
Or, as Alex Delton put it: “Not a day goes by without him making an incredible catch.”
The Wildcats could use an upgrade at receiver.
Deante Burton led K-State in catches (38), receiving yards (510) and receiving touchdowns (4) last season. Those numbers would have made him the fourth or fifth best receiver at most pass-happy Big 12 schools. The Wildcats threw for 2,288 yards last season. Their opponents threw for 3,712. Simply put, K-State needs more production.
Pringle represents new hope as a legitimate stretch-the-field threat. But he also loves to block and do the dirty work K-State coach Bill Snyder demands.
“He can do so many things,” Coleman said. “He is bigger and more physical than most defensive backs. If you try to come up and be physical with him, he can run by you. He has great ball skills, he blocks, he does everything. I am excited to see him on game day.”
Fans can’t wait to see what Pringle is capable of either. He can’t wait to show them, even though he has already felt their support.
“I am very excited for this season, finally being able to play college football at the Division I level,” Pringle said. “It is an opportunity for me to live my dream.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett