Byron Pringle thought the highlight of his Kansas State football career would be leading the Wildcats to an unexpected victory over Oklahoma State earlier this season. He piled up 280 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns in that game. Understandably, it seemed hard to top.
Then he earned a college degree in criminology.
“That was like a milestone to me,” said Pringle, a junior receiver. “Nobody in my family ever went to college. They went to college, but they never finished. Or, like, in my neighborhood, I’m probably like the first one out of my neighborhood to have a college degree or even to step on the college campus. My friends never make it to no college.”
Not long ago, it appeared as though Pringle might not make it to college, either. Despite his impressive talents as a receiver, few football coaches showed much recruiting interest when they discovered he had a criminal past.
When he was 16, Pringle was arrested for participating in a series of crimes in his hometown of Tampa, according to Hillsborough County (Fla.) court documents. The charges included burglary, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and grant theft. His punishment: four years probation and 100 hours of community service. He also sat out his junior season of high school before returning to the team as a senior.
He served his probation and bounced around colleges, originally signing with Youngstown State in 2012. But another arrest in 2013 cost him the opportunity to play there. According to court documents, Pringle, then 19, was charged with robbery by sudden snatching, but those charges were later dropped. That opened the door for him to resurface at the junior-college level with Butler Community College, where he did enough to earn a shot with K-State.
His journey has been a success story ever since.
“Byron has been a very pleasant young man,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “He has worked diligently. He had a rough background before we took him.”
So rough, that Snyder was hesitant to offer him a scholarship.
“I just wanted to spend some time with him,” Snyder said. “We spent about two hours talking before I committed to it. But I was awfully pleased with the sincerity he spoke with and what was important to him. He convinced me he would be the type of guy we want in our program, and he has been every part of that.”
Pringle remembers that long conversation with Snyder like it was yesterday. Pressure was on. Had he screwed up the interview, he might not have experienced major college football.
But he explained his story, and that was enough.
“I got in trouble when I was a teenager, I was hanging out with the wrong people,” Pringle said. “I changed that. If I wasn’t ready to make that change, I would have never went back to school. I never would have got a college degree.”
Those who know Pringle say he transformed as a person. He made good grades, was polite to coaches and became a leader for the Wildcats as a star receiver and kick returner.
So much so, that K-State receivers coach Andre Coleman became emotional while talking about Pringle at K-State’s team banquet earlier this month.
“The most proud moment I’ve had was yesterday when he walked across the stage and (graduated),” Coleman told the audience. “To see his mom, and how happy she was, and to see his family, and how happy they were. It gave me a lot of joy. I appreciate Coach Snyder for giving this kid a chance, because you didn’t just change his life, he’s got a son, you changed his kid’s life. You change generations when you do stuff like that, and I love this kid. He’s a great young man, and he’s going to do special things.”
Pringle didn’t fully recognize the magnitude of his degree until he returned home and visited family before beginning Cactus Bowl practices.
He felt like a role model.
“I’m motivating them,” Pringle said of his home neighborhood. “Some of them changed the lifestyle they was living. They see me back at school and having a great accomplishment, and they changed their life. They went back to school and some of them started working jobs … I have people, older people that I used to look up to, they say I motivate them.… When I go back home they think I’m a superstar.”
It has been an up-and-down season for Pringle. He battled drops early, failing to make a single catch in three games. But he finished strong and grabbed 28 passes for 705 yards and six touchdowns. He also returned 14 kickoffs for 369 yards and a touchdown.
Pringle thinks he was trying to do too much at the beginning of his junior season. He often tried to take off running before he secured the ball, and that led to mistakes. But he is playing well now and hoping to finish off the year with a bang at the Cactus Bowl.
It might be his final game in a K-State uniform.
Though he has one year of eligibility remaining, he is 24 and the oldest player on K-State’s roster. He has a 2-year old son in Tampa he would like to see more often, and he has his degree. Taking a shot at the NFL or moving back to Florida and getting a job outside football would allow him to support his family.
“I don’t know what I am going to do yet,” Pringle said. “Either I have (my family) move with me to Manhattan for a year or I go home and be a father.”
Whatever he decides, he will make the choice with a college degree in hand. No football game can top that.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett