The way Kansas State football players spoke about Byron Pringle when he joined the team last spring made many expect greatness from the sophomore receiver before they watched him play.
Fair or not, that was the billing Pringle has tried to live up to during his debut season with the Wildcats. Every mistake has been scrutinized. Every big play has felt like it could have been bigger.
Six games into his K-State career, some wondered what all the hype was about.
Then he sprung into the air -- or “jumped out of the stadium,” as ESPN sideline reporter Rocky Boiman put it — and extended his arms to catch a pass that appeared intended for a fan in the ninth row. Later, he froze Texas defensive back John Bonney with a stutter move in the end zone and broke to his left for an easy touchdown grab.
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Seven games into his K-State career, Pringle is starting to show what all the hype was about.
“He is a very athletic individual,” K-State running back Charles Jones said. “I like what he does in practice, so it is no surprise to me at all the catches he is making. I love what he is doing.”
Pringle, by his own admission, has a long way to go. He has managed 17 catches on 41 targets and ranks third on the team in receiver efficiency, behind Dominique Heath and Deante Burton. Still, the junior-college transfer is trending in the right direction.
His 17 catches for 252 yards and two touchdowns have lifted K-State’s offense. So have his 540 yards and a touchdown as a returner. He has twice been named Big 12 special teams player of the week.
“I love blocking for Byron,” K-State right tackle Dalton Risner said. “Every time we have those pass plays I know that he is going to make a big play.”
Perhaps he simply needed time to adjust to major college football after spending his freshman season at Butler.
“I am just being more patient on my route running,” Pringle said. “I am always so jittery, I had to learn to be patient. I had to study the game more and let the game slow down. The more you know, the more it slows down. Earlier this season, I didn’t know anything and it moved really quick. Now I am putting in my time and studying.”
That knowledge has made a major difference.
In his first few games, he was prepare to run routes against a specific coverage. If a defense flashed zone coverage when he was expecting man, he felt lost. Against Texas, he finally felt comfortable against unexpected formations.
“He has learned at some point in time during the season that it is about more than just being able to line up, run fast and catch the football,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “There are a lot of nuances to his position, like there is at any position. When he finally realized that, he became invested in those things, and that has allowed him to improve.”
Passing remains a weakness for K-State’s offense. Quarterback Jesse Ertz has completed 54.1 percent of his passes, misfiring most often on deep throws to streaking receivers. But K-State’s receiving corps hasn’t helped matters, dropping numerous well-placed balls. Pringle failed to reel in a potential game-clinching touchdown pass against West Virginia. That play haunted him for weeks.
Iowa State is allowing an average of 229 passing yards, so the potential for highlight catches will once again be there. Even on passes that are thrown five feet above his head.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
Kansas State at Iowa State
- When: 11 a.m. Saturday
- Where: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, Iowa
- Records: KSU 4-3, 2-2 Big 12; ISU 1-6, 0-4
- Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM, 102.5-FM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
- TV: FSKC
Three things about Iowa State
1. The Cyclones have lost some hard-luck games, falling to Northern Iowa, No. 8 Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas despite leading in the second half of all four games.
2. Iowa State linebacker Willie Harvey is a playmaker. He has forced two fumbles and made 5.5 tackles for loss this season.
3. Freshman return man Kene Nwangwu is one of the Big 12’s best special-teams players. He is averaging 25.1 yards and has returned four kickoffs for more than 40 yards.
K-State’s secondary vs. Iowa State receiver Allen Lazard. The Wildcats have been susceptible to deep balls in Big 12 games, surrendering long touchdown passes to Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. Lazard has the talent to beat K-State corners Duke Shelley and D.J. Reed deep again this week. They will need to make him work for his yardage.
Kellis Robinett’s pick: K-State, 31-28
Iowa State is going to pull off a Big 12 upset at some point this season, but it won’t be this week. K-State has won eight straight in the Farmaggedon series. Expect another close win in Ames.