In running for Colts job, not NCAA title

June 22, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

The last time Mike Pringle and Sheldon Canley were linked in the same sentence, they were racing toward the NCAA's all-purpose yardage title.

The year was 1989. Pringle, a senior running back from Cal State-Fullerton, won with 2,690 yards. Canley, a junior running back from San Jose State, finished second with 2,513 yards.

Five years later, the all-purpose dynamos are at it again. This time it's in the CFL Colts backfield, where they're vying for the starting running back job.

"It's a great competitive battle," coach Don Matthews said. "There's room for both on the team. But I don't know in what order."

If this is a flashback, it's too close to call after three weeks of camp. Canley, a Canadian Football League rookie, was the clear favorite early in camp. But Pringle, a second-year vet acquired from the Sacramento Gold Miners, made the biggest push in last Saturday's scrimmage.

There are no lines drawn in the dirt at the Towson State camp, either. "I didn't consider myself battling Sheldon then, and I don't consider myself battling him now," said Pringle.

"It's a competitive atmosphere," said Canley. "I don't have any grudges against him, and I don't think he has any against me."

Canley remembers playing against Pringle in 1989 -- San Jose won -- and seeing him field kicks one-handed because his other hand was hurt. That season, Pringle rushed for 357 yards against Cal State-Long Beach, tying an NCAA record, and was Player of the Year in the Big West.

The next season, Canley was the Big West's Player of the Year with 2,213 all-purpose yards. In the process, he became the first player to average 200 yards (205.4) for rushing, receiving and kick return yards for a career.

Both players had short stints in the NFL before landing in the CFL, where three-down football puts a higher emphasis on the passing game. And in Matthews' scheme, pass receiving is the first requisite for his running backs. Pringle and Canley are prototypical CFL backs.

"They're similar in a lot of ways," said Jim Popp, the team's director of player personnel. "Pringle has more of a burst, but Mike is more of a straight-ahead runner. Canley is more shifty as a runner, and a better receiver."

Canley spent two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers on the practice roster and injured reserve. He fit the 49ers mold: small, shifty, good pass catcher. But he was cut in favor of Dexter Carter in the 1993 camp, and briefly considered returning to San Francisco this season before signing with the Colts in February.

"What got me with the 49ers was, I wasn't healthy at the right time," said Canley, who popped a hamstring two weeks before the 1991 draft and fell to the seventh round. "I was never hurt in college. I figured it wasn't meant to be. Here, I think God is giving me another chance to showcase my ability in the CFL."

Canley sees similarities between the 49ers' offense and that of the Colts. "That's why I like this offense," he said. "I can come out of the backfield and catch the ball. It's one of my strongest assets. The key to my success is to be the best I can be when I don't have the ball. I have to sell the defense that I have the ball when I don't."

Pringle wound up in the CFL after passing through the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL and the Sacramento Surge in the World League. The starting fullback for Sacramento's CFL expansion team a year ago, he averaged 6.1 yards a carry, 20.3 yards per kickoff return and had 56 catches for 1,438 all-purpose yards.

"My No. 1 asset is my durability," he said. "And I'm versatile. In this league, you have to be versatile."

Although only Mike Saunders of the Saskatchewan Roughriders had more catches among running backs (58), Pringle arrived in Baltimore with a rap against his pass-catching skills. He bristles at the suggestion he has a problem catching passes.

"I had the second most catches of any running back in the league," he said. "If I can't catch, no running back in the CFL can catch."

RUNNING BACK BATTLE

8, ...... ...... Canley .... ..... Pringle

Age ..... ........ 26 ....... .....26

Size .... ..... 5-9, 200 ... ..... 6-0, 190

College .... San Jose State .... ..Cal State-Fullerton

all-purpose .... 2,513 yards ...... 2,690 yards

Pro ...... ..... 3rd year ..........4th year

NFL draft .... 7th round, 49ers ....6th round, Falcons

Other teams 49ers, Jets .... . .. Falcons, Sac. Surge Sac. Gold

.. ... ... ... ... ... ... ... .. ... ... ... ... .. .. .Miners

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