Mike Pringle grew up counting the scuff marks on his helmet, a rite of passage in Pop Warner football.
Today, at the age of 26, the Baltimore CFLs running back says he still counts them. Only now, it's simply a point of pride.
"I love contact," Pringle said yesterday. "I have since I was playing football back in the Pop Warner League. We'd be real physical back then. We had the type team where you'd take your helmet off and count the stick marks. To this day, I still do that."
Nothing better than a rainbow-hued helmet.
That's what Pringle had after Saturday night's 40-24 victory over the Shreveport Pirates. The 6-foot, 190-pound dynamo from Cal State-Fullerton ripped through Shreveport's torpid defense for 67 yards rushing, 19 on one determined touchdown run when he went through four would-be tacklers.
"Spectacular," was how coach Don Matthews described it.
Reminiscent of a spinning, twisting, 44-yard touchdown run he made while playing for the Sacramento Gold Miners last season, Pringle said.
"I think he's a stud running back," said CFLs center Nick Subis. "He can run the heck out of the ball. His feet don't stop moving. He has all that extra effort."
That extra effort was what got Pringle to the end zone in the third quarter after Jearld Baylis forced a fumble and Matt Goodwin returned it to the Shreveport 19. The touchdown came on a counter play to the left side. Right tackle Neal Fort knocked down the first defender at the line of scrimmage, and Pringle took it from there.
He split two tacklers at the 10, then met two more inside the 5. He dragged them to the goal line before lunging across.
"I like to put my head down and drive my feet," Pringle said. "That's a big part of my game. I've never had a problem running into people. Sometimes I look for people to hit. . . . It's going to take more than one to bring me down."
He also had runs of 18 and 14 yards in the first half.
Of his offensive line, he said: "They take pride in what they do. As a running back, that's what you like to see, a line fighting until the whistle blows."
The NCAA's all-purpose yardage leader in 1989, Pringle amassed 118 all-purpose yards Saturday. In addition to his 67 rushing yards, he had 34 receiving and 17 on a kickoff return. In his first start for Baltimore the week before, he had 197 all-purpose yards. He also plays on the kickoff coverage team and made one tackle against Shreveport.
The intriguing part of the May 28 trade that brought him from Sacramento to Baltimore is what the CFLs had to give up: future considerations. It's a circumstance that still stings Pringle, a native of Los Angeles and a resident of Mission Hills, Calif.
"It's something I don't understand," he said. "But it's part of football and something I have to deal with. I'm happy with the team I'm on. I'm just glad Coach Matthews came and got me. I'm better suited to this offense than the other team. It gives me a chance to get my hands on the ball more than two or three times a game. I need to get in a groove."
Pringle leaves little doubt he enjoys seeing Sacramento lose.
"It was almost a perfect day today," he said, speaking of Sacramento's last-play, 22-20 victory over Las Vegas on
Saturday night. "That's the first thing I look for in the paper."
He said he enjoys his new environment, especially the crowds at Memorial Stadium.
"They have established their personality," Pringle said. "They're loud. The teams that come in here will have to deal with the 13th man. The more games we play here, the more we will win here. I'm looking forward to seeing it filled up."
NOTES: Matthews said rush end William King, who suffered a torn ligament in his thumb, will wear a smaller cast in Thursday's game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers than the one he had Saturday night. . . . Matthews also said he would give Baylis and Pringle time off this week to rest their knees. . . . Linebacker Alvin Walton is not expected to play in Winnipeg, but Malcolm Goodwin, who missed the Shreveport game with a shoulder injury, should return. . . . Newly signed Ricky Andrews was special teams player of the week for his debut against the Pirates.