Terrelle Pryor was a quarterback who had potential early in his football career.
He had tremendous athleticism, and before he got to the National Football League, he won numerous awards while making scouts drool in anticipation of what he could do at the pro level.
Unfortunately, he didn’t quite pan out as planned, and some off-the-field incidents marred his overall reputation and the way that fans remember him.
Growing Up In Middle America
Terrelle Pryor was born on June 20, 1989, in Jeannette, Pa., a small town in the western portion of the state not too far from Pittsburgh.
As a young athlete, Pryor possessed the rare combination of height, size and speed. He would grow to be 6-foot-4 (some publications listed him at 6-foot-6) and about 230 pounds, and while at Jeannette High School, he not only played quarterback, but also defensive back.
Some of his exploits were hard for observers to forget. One time, during his junior season, he was running towards the end zone when a defender stood in his way at the five-yard line.
Pryor simply jumped over him and landed in the end zone for a touchdown.
Another time, he was playing defense on special teams during an extra point attempt. Right after the ball was snapped, he jumped over the head of the opposing team’s center and took the football off the kicking tee.
Pryor became an outstanding dual-threat QB, and he led Jeannette to its first appearance in the Pennsylvania PIAA Class “AA” state football championship game when he was a junior.
The following year, he took his team back to the championship game where it defeated Dunmore to win the state title.
In that game, he was simply something to behold. Although he only threw four passes all game, he connected on three of them for 83 yards, and one of them led to a touchdown.
The senior also ran for 209 yards and three touchdowns on 12 rush attempts. In fact, on one additional play at the end of the first half, he caught a 28-yard pass against double coverage for yet another score.
It allowed him to end his high school career with 4,250 career yards rushing and 4,249 yards passing, making him the other high school player in Pennsylvania history to surpass 4,000 yards in both passing and rushing.
Pryor’s production earned him two Pennsylvania Player of the Year awards, the offensive Player of the Year and the MVP of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
That championship game versus Dunmore was broadcast across PA, introducing numerous fans across the Keystone State to this amazing sensation.
Pennsylvania, especially western PA, had always been a hotbed for high school football players who went on to stardom in college and the pros, but there was something about Pryor that seemed different. Some compared him to a young Randall Cunningham, as well as Vince Young, both of whom were big and extremely mobile QBs.
“If there is a better player than him, ever, I haven’t seen him,” Jeannette coach Ray Reitz said of Pryor. “I can’t speak for more than 40 years ago, or way, way back. But I will say this without any question: Terrelle Pryor is the best I have ever seen.”
Pryor’s sublime physical attributes also made him a great basketball player. He led Jeannette to the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL) title as a junior and the Pennsylvania PIAA state basketball championship in his senior year.
His goal was to play both sports in college. Many thought it was simply unrealistic, but one man, Charlie Ward, seemed to believe that Pryor could pull it off.
Ward had won the 1993 Heisman Trophy as a quarterback at Florida State University, leading the Seminoles to the national championship in football and a couple of NCAA tournament appearances in basketball. He would eventually choose basketball, a choice that took him to the NBA for 11 seasons, mostly with the New York Knicks.
“Most people want you to choose football or basketball to see how you can develop in that one sport,” said Ward, who was a 6-2, 185-pound guard in the NBA. “But my whole deal was, ‘I’m a team guy.’ I wanted to be loyal to my basketball teammates.”
Pryor would be recruited by several schools in both sports throughout his prep career. At first, he committed to playing basketball at the University of Pittsburgh, but as time went on, it became clear that he had more potential on the gridiron than he did on the hardwood.
His ability to run the 40-yard dash in just 4.4 seconds had the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, the University of Oregon and Pennsylvania State University all vying for his services.
Everyone was eagerly anticipating Pryor’s official decision of which school he would play football for, and Sports Illustrated even called it “the most anticipated signing day announcement in history.”
After delaying his decision by over a month, he finally chose to head to Ohio State.
Excelling In The College Game
In the fall of 2008, Pryor entered Ohio State, and it wouldn’t take that long for him to show America how special he was.
He barely played in the Buckeyes’ season opener versus Youngstown State, and he only got to throw nine passes the following week against the mighty University of Southern California Trojans.
But in the third week of the 2008 schedule, Pryor started to take off.
He threw for four touchdowns, which was an Ohio State record for freshman quarterbacks, to lead his team to a blowout win over Troy. The following week against Wisconsin, Pryor scored the game-winning touchdown on the ground, and he followed it up with 226 passing yards on Oct. 25.
Three weeks later, the Buckeyes took on Illinois, and although Pryor was held to 49 passing yards, he ran for 110 in a 30-20 victory.
In all, he took Ohio State to an 8-1 record, which got them a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. The team lost there to the Texas Longhorns, but Pryor still showed his versatility, running for 78 yards on 15 carries, and at one point he even lined up as a wide receiver and caught a short pass for a touchdown.
He ended the 2008 season by being named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
As a freshman, Pryor’s best attribute was his running, but he improved his abilities as a passer in 2009. That year, he threw for 2,094 yards and 18 touchdowns, a major improvement over his 1,311 passing yards and 12 touchdowns the year before.
He also continued to make things happen with his legs, rushing for 779 yards and seven touchdowns on the season.
Ohio State had another strong season, winning the Big Ten Championship for the second year in a row and making it to the Rose Bowl, where it defeated Oregon 26-17.
Pryor shined bright under the hot lights of the big game, posting a career-high 266 yards, plus two touchdowns, while also running for 72 yards, earning him the Rose Bowl offensive Most Valuable Player award.
(2010) Terrelle Pryor hits DeVier Posey on a back shoulder throw to seal the Rose Bowl win. pic.twitter.com/HlAndzeD74
— Buckeye Moments (@BuckeyeMoments) September 1, 2017
By the 2010 season, Pryor was a phenomenon, and many felt he was on his way to winning numerous awards that season. In an early-season contest versus Eastern Michigan, he took things to a higher level, throwing for 224 yards and four touchdowns, 104 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown and even catching a pass for a sixth touchdown.
The Buckeyes massacred Eastern Michigan, putting up an almost unheard-of 73 points, and Pryor’s profile was lifted even more.
#2 Terrelle Pryor (2008-2010)
6,177 Passing Yards / 57 TDs
2,164 Rushing Yards / 17 TDs
2008 B1G Freshman of the Year
Rose Bowl Champ
Super Bowl Champ
3-0 vs Michigan as a starter
Total score in those 3 games vs Michigan was 100-24. pic.twitter.com/GsJAC2HKiS
— #GoBucks (@LetsGoBuckeyes) July 31, 2018
But his promise was brought down to earth by an incident that was completely preventable.
In December of 2010, it came to light that Pryor and several of his teammates sold Big Ten championship rings, individual awards and merchandise such as jerseys in return for money and discounts at a Columbus, Ohio tattoo parlor.
The owner of the parlor, Edward Rife, would later plead guilty to federal drug trafficking and money-laundering charges.
Their actions violated NCAA rules, and as a result, they were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season. However, in a controversial decision, Pryor and the rest were allowed to still participate in the Sugar Bowl that season.
The Buckeyes would win the Sugar Bowl, but the win would later be vacated.
In addition, all five Buckeyes players who were penalized were ordered to pay out a four-digit sum for selling the items they peddled.
Those sympathetic to Pryor claimed that he sold items in order to help his family financially.
“The time this occurred with these young men was a very tough time in our society. It’s one of the toughest economic environments in our history,” athletic director Gene Smith said. “The decisions that they made they made to help their families.”
What Pryor did may not have been a true moral outrage, but it was just the beginning.
Months later, it was reported that Pryor’s driver’s license had been suspended by the state of Ohio, but that he continued to operate a motor vehicle anyway. The suspension happened when, during a February traffic stop by law enforcement, he failed to show proof of auto insurance.
In addition, a former friend of Pryor’s told ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” that the quarterback had signed his autograph on dozens of pieces of memorabilia in return for thousands of dollars of cash, another violation of NCAA rules.
Perhaps giving in to public pressure, in June of 2011, Pryor decided to withdraw from Ohio State and forgo his senior season of eligibility. A few weeks later, after the school concluded that he had “failed to cooperate” to the NCAA’s investigation into his improper benefits, he would be barred from any contact with the institution for five years.
The fallout from the controversy was that head coach Jim Tressel was forced to resign, while Ohio State was banned from taking part in the postseason that followed the 2012 season and placed on probation for three years.
Pryor seemed to get the majority of the blame for the consequences the Buckeyes faced, even though Sports Illustrated revealed that as many as a few dozen other players had engaged in improper transactions going back to 2002.
This type of major scandal is the kind of thing that can destroy a career and one’s reputation. But Pryor still seemed determined to make it to the NFL and become a star.
After all, the one saving grace for all this upheaval was that he was eligible for the league’s supplemental draft.
Stumbling Into The Pros
In August of 2011, Pryor took part in an official workout. If the scandal he had been a central part of had rocked the sports world and caused outrage, he was still something of a hot prospect, as representatives from 17 NFL teams watched him go through drills.
If his passing skills were not quite elite (he still completed 27-of-39 passes), the team reps on hand were thoroughly impressed with his speed, which was outstanding, especially given his size and bulk.
The Oakland Raiders took Pryor in the third round of the supplemental draft, and three days later, both sides agreed to a four-year contract.
But before he could take the field in the silver and black, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hit Pryor with a five-game suspension because of his role in “Tattoogate” while at Ohio State.
Ever since losing in the Super Bowl following the 2002 season, the Raiders had gone into a long drought, the likes of which the high-profile organization had never experienced before. At the time, Oakland had quarterback Jason Campbell, who in October suffered a fractured collarbone that ended his season.
Instead of handing the reigns over to Pryor, the Raiders traded for quarterback Carson Palmer, who, like Pryor, had been a big-time college superstar. Palmer would start under center for the rest of the schedule.
Pryor only appeared in one game in late October, during which he lined up at wide receiver and attempted to run a quarterback sneak, only to be called for a false start penalty.
He also barely played in 2012, as Palmer continued to be the starter at QB. However, towards the end of the season, with Oakland sagging towards a 4-12 finish, Pryor would finally get an opportunity.
In Week 16 versus the Carolina Panthers, he caught a 22-yard pass from Palmer. The following week, head coach Dennis Allen decided to start Pryor under center against the San Diego Chargers, the Raiders’ AFC West and cross-state rivals.
The results were mixed. The second-year man only completed 13-of-28 passes, but he did post 150 passing yards, two passing touchdowns, 49 rushing yards on nine attempts and one rushing touchdown in a three-point loss.
Finally Getting An Opportunity
After Palmer got traded to the Arizona Cardinals, the starting QB spot for the 2013 season was an open competition between Pryor, Matt Flynn and Tyler Wilson. Pryor won the starting job, giving him the opportunity he had longed for his entire life.
At first, he showed promise. In Week 1 versus the Indianapolis Colts, he completed 19-of-29 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown. Although he threw two interceptions, he also ran for 112 yards on just 13 rushing attempts, which set a franchise QB rushing record.
In Week 2, Oakland got its first win of the season, although Pryor had no touchdowns and only threw for 126 yards.
The Raiders traveled to meet the Denver Broncos the following week, and Pryor got his first dose of NFL adversity. He recorded 281 passing yards while completing 19-of-28 passes and connecting on a touchdown pass to Denarius Moore, but he suffered a concussion in the second half and was forced to leave the contest.
Pryor returned for the Raiders’ Week 5 game against the Chargers, and he was impressive, hitting on his first 10 pass attempts while throwing for two touchdowns in the first quarter. Oakland took a 17-0 lead, and although San Diego rallied in the second half, Pryor responded well.
With minutes remaining in the game, he faced a third down and was about to be sacked, when he escaped and found Brice Butler for a 20-yard completion. The play helped seal a 27-17 Raiders win, giving them a not-too-shabby 2-3 record.
Pryor struggled in Week 6 against the Kansas City Chiefs, completing just 18-of-34 passes, throwing three interceptions and getting sacked a whopping nine times in a 24-7 loss. The following week, Oakland defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Pryor finished with 106 rushing yards, most of which came on a 93-yard run that resulted in a touchdown, which was the longest touchdown by a QB in league history.
October 27, 2013 🏴☠️🏈✍️🏻
QB Terrelle Pryor ran for a 93-yard touchdown versus the Steelers @ the Oakland Coliseum.
— AFL Godfather 🏴☠️👓🏈 (@NFLMAVERICK) October 27, 2021
However, he struggled as a passer, only recording 88 passing yards and committing two interceptions.
The former Buckeye had another dismal performance in Week 9 versus the New York Giants, when he sprained his MCL and missed Oakland’s next three games.
By now, coach Allen had lost faith in Pryor. Even when the QB was able to play again, he was demoted to playing a backup role behind Matt McGloin.
Still, Pryor got one more start in the final week of the season when the Raiders hosted Denver. His passing wasn’t too accurate, as he completed just 21-of-38 throws, but he did connect on two touchdown passes while also rushing for 49 yards.
The Raiders lost by 20 points, however, ending yet another embarrassing season in which they won just four games.
If Pryor was thought to have serious potential as a dynamic NFL quarterback, that potential was now gone and unrealized.
Pryor was traded to the Seattle Seahawks during the offseason, just a couple of months after they had won the Super Bowl. Although he played for them during the preseason, he did not survive their final cuts to the roster before Week 1.
Afterward, Pryor made a concerted attempt to remain in the league, but after trying out for the Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Redskins, none of them kept him around.
Early in 2015, the Chiefs signed him to a one-year contract, only to release him in May. The Cincinnati Bengals picked him up a few days later, but they also released him after just five weeks.
The following day, Pryor, through his agent, let it be known that he was willing to play wide receiver. The Cleveland Browns decided they were willing to take on flyer on him, and although they initially waived him five days later, they brought him back in early December when quarterback Josh McCown suffered a season-ending injury.
Pryor played in the Browns’ final regular season game, managing just one reception for 42 yards.
It seemed like maybe he was getting a legitimate second chance when the Browns made him a starter at wideout for the 2016 season. he didn’t do too badly, posting three 100-yard games and finishing the year with 1,007 yards and four touchdowns while playing in all 16 games and starting all but one of them.
In Week 3, with the Browns’ top two QBs, McCown and Robert Griffin III, out, Pryor even got a bit of time under center. Against the Miami Dolphins, he threw five passes, completing three of them for 35 yards, while also scoring a rushing touchdown and even being sent in as a safety for one play towards the end of the contest.
That game made him the first NFL player to have at least 120 receiving yards, 30 passing yards and 20 rushing yards in a single game since the legendary Frank Gifford do so in 1959.
Pryor played nine games for the Washington Redskins in 2017, starting two contests and catching 20 passes for 240 yards and one touchdown on the season. He played through an ankle injury for much of the season, and in late November he decided to have it operated on, ending his season.
The 2018 campaign was Pryor’s swan song in the NFL. He played six games for the New York Jets and two games for the Buffalo Bills, finishing the year with 235 yards and two touchdowns.
— Fin (@jessefinver) October 7, 2018
It’s sad that Pryor will be remembered more for “Tattoogate” and his seemingly pompous persona than his spectacular and unique play while at Ohio State, or even his scattered moments of excellence in the NFL.
But if he wanted to make the public forget about his past indiscretions, he failed to do so.
In November 2019, he and Shalaya Briston got into a violent argument in a Pittsburgh apartment. Both were charged with assault, and to make matters worse, the former QB was stabbed in the neck and chest, resulting in him being hospitalized.
Once Pryor recovered, he ended up getting 90 days of probation.
He tried to make a comeback to the NFL in 2020, and he said he had talked to the New England Patriots about getting an opportunity, although nothing of the sort materialized.
Two years later, Pryor was involved in another violent altercation with Briston, his ex-girlfriend. She claimed that during the incident, Pryor hit her with an open hand on her face and head, resulting in a bruised and inflamed eye. The former football player also allegedly threw a deck chair at her when she tried to run away, and after she got in her Mercedes-Benz and drove away, Pryor threw pumpkins at its windshield.
As of this writing, Pryor is facing criminal mischief, harassment and simple assault charges.