Vahe Gregorian

This Chiefs receiver and former K-State star came through when the chips were down

Through 59 minutes and 20 seconds and 64 offensive snaps Sunday at Ford Field in Detroit, Byron Pringle had been on the field for one play beyond his role on the Chiefs’ special teams.

For that matter, he entered the game with one NFL reception since deciding to leave Kansas State after the 2017 season with a year of eligibility remaining only to go undrafted and spend last season on injured reserve with a hernia.

Moreover, what was to come next was obscured by the rest of a berserk game that will be best remembered for Bashaud Breeland’s 100-yard fumble return, the hook and ladder lateral from Travis Kelce to LeSean McCoy and the engineering of a game-winning drive by Patrick Mahomes in the latest installment of his majesty.

But none of that renders Pringle’s underappreciated play any less momentous, impressive or pivotal in the 34-30 victory, the sort of win that could loom large in the ultimate picture with the Chiefs and Patriots figuring to be on a collision course for the AFC Championship and home-field advantage perhaps crucial to that outcome.

On second and 10 at the Lions’ 16-yard-line, Pringle dragged right to left, fending off cornerback Justin Coleman and avoiding a collision with another Detroit defender chasing Demarcus Robinson as they crossed … with Mahomes already into his windup anticipating where Pringle would come free.

With Coleman grasping for his legs, Pringle was instantly thumped by Tavon Wilson but spun free only to be hammered by Will Harris … and still keep churning for another yard or so to the 3.

“I knew the second dude was coming, but I didn’t know he was coming that quick,” Pringle said with a smile Thursday. “But I was trying to make my way toward the end zone.

“I wasn’t going back.”

“Byron Pinball,” they called the play on the K-State football Twitter account. After the game, Chiefs coach Andy Reid invoked a term Pringle says he’s used with him on occasion before, saying “Pringle was about two inches away from getting a potato chip commercial.”

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Byron Pringle kisses his baby before the start of Saturday’s preseason game, Aug. 24, 2019, at Arrowhead Stadium. Jill Toyoshiba

By coming through when the chips were down, you might say.

“I was impressed that he hung onto the football,” Reid said. “Sometimes when you get spun around like that, that ball comes out. He was able to hang onto it. I thought it was a great catch in traffic.”

With Tyreek Hill soon to rejoin the traffic of a ridiculously loaded receiver corps, it’s hard to know how many more such opportunities Pringle will get in the immediate future.

But this moment said plenty about how the Chiefs already viewed Pringle.

“We have ultimate trust in him,” Mahomes said.

Making good in the crucible only reinforced that.

“I just knew I had a job to do,” he said, “and I was going to beat my man.”

It’s testament to the Chiefs’ clichéd-but-true “next man up” mantra, something that has sustained them through a 4-0 start played mostly without Hill, left tackle Eric Fisher and running back Damien Williams.

The dynamic is something the Chiefs work to cultivate.

“You’ve got to always be dialed in,” Pringle said. “That’s how we practice: You never know when Coach is going to put you in, so always be ready.”

But the play also was affirmation of Pringle’s resolve since his decision to leave K-State played out differently than he might have hoped.

The Chiefs alertly signed him to a free-agent contract after he failed to be drafted following a season that included scoring four touchdowns against then-No. 13 Oklahoma State and an average of more than 24 yards a catch.

Next opportunity up.

“I’ve got a strong mind,” said Pringle, essentially reflecting the words attached to his Twitter bio: “A NEGATIVE mind will never get you POSITIVE energy.”

So, frustrated as he was last season when he was unable to even practice, Pringle said he stayed engaged by continuing to work to learn the offense. He attended meetings to observe and absorb coaching critique of other receivers. He viewed each weight-room and rehab session as chances to take advantage of opportunities in themselves.

Pringle had a fine 2019 camp and scored a touchdown in the preseason game against San Francisco.

“He’s the definition of perseverance,” former K-State teammate D.J. Reed of the 49ers said after that game. “I’m proud of him, the person he is, how hard he’s worked, his passion for the game. It’s all coming to fruition.”

But Pringle had another curveball ahead: He was released after the opener when the Chiefs re-signed De’Anthony Thomas.

He cleared waivers, though, and days later was added to the practice squad and rejoined the active roster. He had his first NFL reception, for 7 yards, against Baltimore a week before attitude met opportunity.

“It’s a perfect example,” he said. “You know this game is not permanent. So you know that day will come that you may get released or your career might come to an end.

“So you’ve got to come every day to work with your head up, positive mindset and positive energy.”

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.