The irrepressible smile has accompanied him on every leg of his improbable football odyssey, from Port Tampa to the junior college nether regions to Kansas State to Kansas City.
With each stop, the Byron Pringle beam seems to get a little more lustrous.
“The man smiles all the time,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said.
“It’s like a Cheshire cat’s smile,” said Mike DePue, Pringle’s coach at Robinson High. “It would light up the locker room.”
Welcome to the darndest home-grown redemptive tale of Super Bowl 55, one that not only aims to leave you with a grin, but commences with one, courtesy of its central character.
Before the pursuit of consecutive Super Bowl rings, before the 2,000 all-purpose yards at Kansas State, before the teenaged self-infliction that could’ve crushed his aspirations, there was the ear-to-ear radiance.
“He’s always laughing, he’s always smiling, no matter what,” said former Robinson teammate Robert “Nuke” Priester, who remains one of Pringle’s closest friends. “No matter if it’s something not to be smiling about, he’s still smiling. I’ve never seen him down, not ever.”
A 27-year-old dad of two boys, Pringle wasn’t made available to reporters in the days preceding his first bona fide hometown appearance as a pro, in Super Bowl 55. Sidelined by an ankle injury in the Nov. 29 regular season encounter with the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium, he has five postseason receptions and looms as the game’s most dangerous kick-return threat.
On a snowy late-October afternoon in Denver, he returned a kick 102 yards in a 43-16 romp of the Broncos. Including playoffs, he’s averaging 30.5 yards on 12 returns.
“I think Pringle is a little bit like myself,” fellow Chiefs speedster Sammy Watkins said. “He doesn’t care about all the other stuff...he’s out there playing his behind off and playing with passion, trying to do everything in his might and his willpower to win.”
A decade ago, a high school diploma seemed a stretch, at least to those on Pringle’s periphery. Well chronicled throughout his career is his August 2010 arrest on seven felony charges when, according to Tampa police, he and a handful of co-defendants embarked on a spree ranging from auto burglaries to a violent armed robbery to firing a BB gun at pedestrians.
Pringle, coming off a dazzling sophomore season at Robinson that had attracted the attention of college scouts, acknowledged being part of the group and firing the BB gun, but insisted 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.
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Adjudication was withheld on the other charges, and Pringle was sentenced to four years’ probation. However, he spent his entire junior year at a technical school in Tampa, missing his junior football season and the critical spring prior to his senior year.
“Missing that spring his junior year really hurt in terms of college scouts seeing him,” DePue said.
“Ten years ago, when he was at a technical school, I would think you’re crazy (to suggest he would’ve reached the NFL),” added Rob Burns, Pringle’s offensive coordinator at Robinson. “That would be a battle 95 percent of people no way could take to make that happen.”
Raised by his mom in a Port Tampa apartment complex, Pringle completed his year at the technical school, re-enrolled at Robinson (with the endorsement of the school’s administration), honored the terms of his probation (including 100 hours of community service) and earned eligibility for his senior year.
He amassed more than 1,110 all-purpose yards in 2011, returning four kicks for touchdowns and recording four interceptions on defense.
“If Byron really was a bad kid, or whatever maybe happened, he could’ve stayed on the route that he wanted,” Priester said. “But he was so determined and wanted to do better, that he changed for the better.”
Pringle originally signed with Youngstown State, but a July 2013 arrest on a felony charge of robbery by sudden snatching foiled that opportunity. A probable-cause affidavit from the Tampa Police Department indicates Pringle drove another suspect to meet a person who had agreed online to sell him an iPad. The suspect allegedly snatched the device during the encounter.
That charge was dropped, and Pringle landed at Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan. After a redshirt season, he sparkled in 2015 (28 catches, 432 yards, nine touchdowns, one kick-return TD), earning a scholarship to Kansas State.
He finished his two-year stint second in school history in career yards per reception (19.64) and sixth in both career kickoff-return average (27.6) and yards (1,076). In a 45-40 win against Oklahoma State in 2017, Pringle had touchdown receptions of 47, 46 and 60 yards, and an 89-yard TD on a kick return.
Months later, he signed with the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent.
“He didn’t just wallow in self-pity, which is the worst thing you can do,” DePue said.
“I’ve seen so many other people with much less stress in their life, and struggles in their life, just fold. He did not fold. The cream rises to the top. Byron has risen to the top. Did he curdle a little bit on the way? ... But he made it, and that’s why we’re so proud of him.”
This is the part that makes everyone else in the Pringle saga smile.
“He always has a positive attitude when he’s in the locker room,” Mahomes said.
“Every single rep he takes, he’s 120 percent, and whenever his number gets called he makes plays. So I’m excited for him to get to play in a Super Bowl in his hometown, and I’m excited that he is who he is and I get to have him on my team.”
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
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