MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Mike Pringle is no longer the Canadian Football League's superstar surprise. He is no longer the stranger who came to Baltimore a year ago as a last-minute trade addition and broke the league's rushing record while leading his team into the Grey Cup game in its inaugural season.
All of which is fine with Pringle. Fully aware that the CFL defenses build their game plans around ways to stop him, Pringle relishes the thought of running over tacklers that much more.
"This game is a physical sport, and I don't see any other way to play this game, other than intense and at full speed," Pringle said. "If you go at it any less than that, you're cheating yourself and the fans who pay to come out and watch you perform."
Rest assured, Pringle gives the fans their money's worth.
Starting with a game-face glare that can burn through a huddle, Pringle means business. Nary an ounce of fat is visible on his 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame, evidence of his devotion to off-season conditioning.
And the fun really starts when the ball is in his hands. Given the choice, Pringle would rather plow through a tackler, although he is learning to widen his vision in the open field and make more defenders miss him, resulting in more breakaway runs.
Pringle is the physical and emotional heart of the Stallions' attack.
As Baltimore reaches the regular season's midpoint tonight against the Memphis Mad Dogs, the Stallions are trying to end a two-game losing streak and a troubling offensive slump. The offense has scored just one touchdown in the past three games, although Pringle is the least of its problems.
A year after he broke a 19-year-old CFL record by rushing for 1,972 yards, Pringle again leads the league with 743 yards rushing. He also is tops with 918 yards from scrimmage.
"Regardless of where he is on the field, he can change the complexion of the game," quarterback Tracy Ham said. "He can change the outcome of the game with one play. He's an impact player."
LTC "It's very satisfying to watch him run. He's powerful, but he's got a lot of grace. It's like an art form," offensive tackle Shar Pourdanesh said. "He has a second, third, fourth and fifth effort. And he's got this intensity in his eyes. He motivates me."
Said Pringle: "I don't know what type of effect I have on this team. They know I'm intense, they know I'm going to yell and scream and curse. Hopefully, some of them will listen to what I say and take it upon themselves to try harder."
Extra effort is never a problem for Pringle. No one comes to training camp in better shape. On the field, he fights for each yard as if it's his last.
"He's as tenacious a runner as I've ever seen," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "There's no in-between with him. He only has one speed."
And it took three years for Pringle's potential to be discovered by the CFL. After being drafted out of Cal State-Fullerton -- where he led the nation with 2,690 all-purpose yards as a senior -- in 1990 by the Atlanta Falcons, he was cut by them the next year.
In 1992, his first CFL season, Pringle played in three games for Edmonton, then spent 1993 as a fullback in Sacramento, where he mostly blocked for running back Mike Oliphant. But he showed enough running ability against Saskatchewan -- where Matthews coached at the time -- to attract Baltimore's interest last year.
Early in training camp, Sacramento sent Joe Howard Johnson to Baltimore for future considerations. Then, the Gold Miners threw Pringle into the deal. Nearly 2,000 rushing yards later, Pringle had made his statement.
STALLIONS-MAD DOGS TONIGHT
Site: Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn.
TV/Radio: Channel 54/WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)
Records: Baltimore 5-3, Memphis 4-4
Last week: Visiting Memphis forced five turnovers and sacked Tracy Ham five times to upset the Stallions, 25-15.
On the sidelines: Baltimore's Don Matthews, in his 11th CFL season, has a record of 115-69-1. Memphis' Pepper Rodgers is 4-4 in his first CFL season.
What Baltimore has to do to win: Eliminate the penalties and turnovers that have stalled its offensive drives in recent games. QB Tracy Ham has been intercepted five times without a touchdown in his past three games, and a big game from him will help stop the Stallions' two-game losing streak.
What Memphis has to do to win: Get another huge effort out of QB Rickey Foggie, who replaced the injured Damon Allen last week and performed flawlessly. The Mad Dogs also need to win more field position battles to help their defense keep Baltimore K Carlos Huerta from being too much of a factor.