The running man Pringle profile: The driving force behind the Stallions offense and the CFL's best runner the past two seasons, Mike Pringle brings a physical approach to the game.

November 16, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

REGINA, Saskatchewan -- When he was young, Mike Pringle didn't dream of playing professional football, but he quickly found out how much he loved the contact that came with the game.

So what if he was breaking the rules by hitting people. He couldn't help it, even at the age of 8.

"The first football trophy I ever got was in 1975, in a flag football league," said Pringle, 28. "I used to tackle people all of the time, and after that one year, they didn't want me to play anymore. I guess I was a little too physical."

Some things never change. Twenty years later, Pringle is too physical for the average defender, yet the stakes are much higher now.

Two seasons as the best running back, and arguably the best player, in the Canadian Football League, say plenty about his ability. On Sunday, Pringle will take his blend of speed, power and controlled fury into the biggest game of his life, when he tries to lead the Baltimore Stallions to victory over Calgary in the 83rd Grey Cup.

Before that, Pringle is expected to be named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player tonight, an honor that would come a year late. Last year, he set a CFL record with 1,972 rushing yards and led an expansion Baltimore team to the Grey Cup. This year, despite missing one game with a hamstring injury and sitting out most of another to rest up for the playoffs, he still piled up 1,791 yards and 13 touchdowns.

In Baltimore's playoff victories over Winnipeg and San Antonio, Pringle has rushed for 347 yards, easily tops in the postseason. ++ Come Sunday, when the weather at Taylor Field promises to be cold and windy, Pringle could prove to be the difference, even against the CFL's top-rated rushing defense.

"This game is not about Mike Pringle," he said. "This is about victory."

And Pringle will always be happy to take out anybody who stands in his way while he is carrying the ball. Picture a miniature bulldozer in shoulder pads, and you've got the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Pringle. Baltimore coach Don Matthews talks about how much Pringle's vision has improved over the past two years, about how well he is using cutback moves in the open field to make big plays. But Pringle would still rather run over the nearest obstacle.

"I've still got a bruise in my back from where he [Pringle] torpedoed me last week," Baltimore guard Mike Withycombe said. "He gets hit three or four times and he fights for that extra yard. He gets six yards, and he's ticked off that he didn't get that seventh. It's great blocking for a guy like that."

His teammates marvel at his competitive fire, which Pringle carries over into brutal off-season workouts. Pringle remembers learning about dedication from Vern Coley, his Pop Warner league coach when he was 9.

"I think you can teach heart to people at an early age. He instilled it in us," Pringle said. "He would run us to the point where we wanted to quit, and he would tell us if we didn't want to run, stand on the sideline and watch everybody else run. When he blew the whistle, everybody ran."

Then there is his mother, Annie, who lives in Los Angeles, where Pringle grew up. She travels to see most of his games, and watches the others on a satellite dish she purchased after Pringle signed with Baltimore in 1994.

"I look back on my career and I have to smile. I always knew I could do it," he said. "My mother is the biggest influence in my life. She has always believed in me."

That hasn't always been the case with Pringle. Others have deemed him too small, not fast enough. He started out at Washington State, but transferred to Cal State-Fullerton because wanted more chances to carry the ball. As a senior, he rushed for 1,727 yards and led the nation in all-purpose yards with 2,690.

In 1990, the Atlanta Falcons drafted him in the sixth round, but he saw limited duty. In 1991, he was the last player cut by Atlanta.

After splitting his next year between the Edmonton Eskimos and the World League champion Sacramento Surge, Pringle signed with the expansion Sacramento Gold Miners in 1993, when the CFL first expanded into the U.S. He started at fullback there, and contributed 1,438 yards from scrimmage. Yet, he was considered expendable enough to be traded to Baltimore in 1994.

Since arriving here, Pringle not only has taken over the offense, he has turned CFL convention upside down. This is still known as a passing league, but not in Baltimore, where the Stallions march to the beat of their ground game.

"When we put this team together, we had a huge offensive line, and it was evident we might be able to change the way the CFL game is played, and I really think it has changed," said Matthews. "You'd have to say [Pringle] is the best [running back] that's played. Every time he carries the ball, he runs as hard as he can. He only plays at one speed. His approach to the game is so consistent."

As are Pringle's results. In 19 games this season, he has gained at least 90 yards in 11 of them.

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