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PORT TAMPA — The morning after his first full game in 21 months, Robinson senior Byron Pringle headed straight from his team’s 9 a.m. film review for some manual labor at a local church.
For the next handful of hours, he cleaned out gutters, scooped pine needles from the lawn and used a broom to shake spiderwebs from the corners. Over the next few months, he’ll serve his community in such fashion until he has reached 100 documented hours.
This is Pringle’s penance.
On a kickoff return against Jefferson the evening before, he took a lateral from Martin Ruiz near his 15-yard line and commenced to crafting a YouTube clip.
This is the price the rest of society — at least the segment that suits up against Robinson -— is paying.
Pringle eluded the outstretched arm of one would-be tackler, darted to the left sideline, slithered through the grasp of at least three defenders at his 30, cut back toward the middle, broke two more tackles near the 50 and another near the Dragons 20, and lumbered in for the TD.
“It feels great to have one more chance to succeed in life,” Pringle says.
Absent all of last season after being arrested for his involvement in a crime spree two summers ago, Pringle has added a Division I-caliber dimension to the undefeated Knights’ passing game, secondary and special teams.
Two other Robinson players arrested with him — juniors Jovan Woods and Dominique Jennings — also are back in good standing with the team.
“We give everybody a second chance,” coach Mike DePue said. “Third time around, you screw up again, well …but everybody deserves a second chance. Tons of kids have gotten second chances around here. …It’s not just here, it’s everywhere.”
Whether Pringle’s tale evolves into a redemptive one remains to be seen. His comeback spans only two games, and his foreseeable Saturdays remain rife with cobwebs and clogged gutters. Only time will determine the depth of his contrition.
But so far, “he is absolutely toeing the line,” DePue says.
And providing an infusion of power (285-pound bench press), ranginess (6-foot-2, 187 pounds) and shiftiness to a Knights team that hosts Jesuit on Friday in what ultimately could determine the Class 5A, District 8 champion.
In two games, Pringle has six catches for 93 yards and a TD, is averaging 47.6 yards on three kick returns with a TD, and has notched five tackles with a fumble recovery on defense.
“He has been sorry for (his misbehavior), and he was just excited for his first game back against Jefferson,” senior kicker/punter Kody Thomas said. “Him in the locker room before the game …he was jumping.”
Before then, he was grounded. Through no one’s fault but his, Pringle — who had 21 receptions and one pick as a sophomore — spent the entire 2010 season regressing from Knights spectacle to spectator.
His career came to a self-inflicted thud in August 2010, when he was arrested on seven felony charges — ranging from aggravated assault with a deadly weapon to burglary of an unoccupied dwelling — and a misdemeanor.
According to a Tampa Police Department report, Pringle and a handful of co-defendants including Woods and Jennings embarked on a July 5 spree that ranged from auto burglaries to a violent armed robbery to firing a BB gun at pedestrians.
Pringle acknowledges firing the BB gun and accompanying the group on the burglary spree, but says he never laid a hand on anyone. According to the Hillsborough County Clerk of Circuit Court’s office, he wasn’t prosecuted on the charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Adjudication was withheld on the other charges, and Pringle was sentenced to four years’ probation. He has a 9 p.m. daily curfew that he says is extended to midnight on game nights.
“I wish I had done the right thing, that it never would’ve happened,” said Pringle, who attended Tampa’s Brewster Technical Center his junior year before re-enrolling last month at Robinson. “I wish I had gone home, never even left the house.”
Unable to change the past, Pringle can only make amends for it. In addition to the community service, he said he submitted five hand-written letters of apology — via his probation officer — to various victims. During his probation, he must remain a full-time student.
His goal: to prove that the night of July 5, 2010, was an aberration, and that these Knights aren’t.
Few expected Robinson, which lost 22 seniors from last season’s Class 2A state semifinalist, to put a 38-18 lump on reigning 3A state champ Jefferson right out of the proverbial gate. But DePue suggests it proved what his staff has known:
This 2011 squad is teeming with untapped talent that learned the prerequisites of winning from its predecessors.
“(Pringle) came back and was pretty much an impact player for the Jefferson game,” said DePue, who sat Pringle for the preseason contest because he had re-enrolled only days before.
“People are going to start to scheme against him in particular, but we have a whole bunch of other weapons out there.”
Then again, Pringle has been a marked man for some time. The words “God” and “Son” are tattooed on his right and left biceps, respectively. Across his chest is “Patty,” his mother’s name. A “B” is marked on his left triceps, a “P” on the right.
And inscribed in his heart, he insists, is remorse.
“I’m not going to screw up a second time,” he said.