Ingram hoping to hand Tide first Heisman Trophy
A year ago, Mark Ingram was a freshman backup showing
considerable power and potential and a knack for reaching the end
Now, the Alabama tailback is reaching for something more
substantial: becoming the first player in the top-ranked Crimson
Tide’s storied history to win the Heisman Trophy.
“It’s just really humbling, overwhelming and exciting all at
the same time,” the sophomore tailback said of being a finalist.
“You kind of dream about this growing up watching all the great
players who won the Heisman Trophy.”
There have been plenty of great ones who starred for Alabama but
never snared college football’s top award, ranging from Joe Namath
to Ozzie Newsome to Shaun Alexander at the marquee offensive
positions. It has almost become a badge of pride for a program that
has collected six national championships and 22 Southeastern
It’s about winning titles not awards, they said, sniffing at
rival Auburn’s two Heismans and one national title. Then again,
that was before Ingram emerged as a legitimate candidate.
The offensive star for the nation’s top-ranked team, he has a
chance to finally add college football’s top trophy to the Tide’s
The 5-foot-10, 212-pounder is one of five Heisman finalists,
joining Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, Nebraska defensive
tackle Ndamukong Suh and quarterbacks Colt McCoy of Texas and Tim
Tebow of Florida.
Ingram has run for a school-record 1,542 yards and 15 touchdowns
while catching 30 passes for 322 yards and three more TDs. A
whopping 1,002 yards have come after contact.
Ingram was named SEC offensive player of the year by The
He showed flashes of that ability as a freshman, racking up 728
yards and a team-high 12 touchdowns as Glen Coffee’s backup. Coffee
then skipped his senior season to enter the NFL draft and is with
the San Francisco 49ers.
He might have had a hard time holding onto his job at
Ingram has thrived behind an offensive line that had to replace
three starters, including All-Americans Andre Smith and Antoine
He seemed like a solid Heisman front-runner going into the
Tide’s regular-season finale at Auburn. Then, the seemingly
unstoppable back got stopped.
Ingram managed just 30 yards on 16 carries against the nation’s
88th-ranked run defense. Then the question became not would he win,
but would he even make it to New York as a finalist.
“I wasn’t too worried about it,” Ingram said. “When you have
a great game, everybody loves you. When you have a bad game, it’s
(treated like) the end of the world. We won the game, and that’s
Ingram rebounded with a huge performance against Florida in the
SEC championship game. He ran for 113 yards and three touchdowns
and also took a screen pass 69 yards to carry the Tide into the BCS
national title game against No. 2 Texas.
Heisman hype hasn’t been the only potential distraction for
Ingram this season. His father, former New York Giants wide
receiver Mark Ingram, is serving a 92-month sentence on a federal
money laundering and bank fraud conviction. Now, he’s in a holding
facility in New York awaiting a hearing, court-appointed attorney
James Neville said, that could extend that sentence because he
didn’t report to a federal prison in Kentucky last December.
The elder Ingram wanted to stay at the holding so he could be
sure to watch his son play in the SEC championship game on TV.
He was captured on Jan. 2 in a Michigan motel room hours before
the Tide was set to play Utah in the Sugar Bowl.
“He’s happy for me. He’s real proud of me,” said the Alabama
star, who says little about his father publicly. “He’s not really
surprised because he always told me there was no other running back
better than me. He always expected more of me than I expected of
“I’m sure he’s going through rough times, but I’m sure the fact
that he has something to look forward to and be proud of has made
his time a little easier.”
The younger Ingram opened his sophomore season with a 150-yard
effort against then-No. 7 Virginia Tech, then had three straight
games that left him far from the Heisman conversation.
He had only 197 yards over the next three games against Florida
International, North Texas and Arkansas – getting scant carries in
the first two games, both blowouts.
When the numbers started improving, and the attention started
growing, Ingram relied on running backs coach Burton Burns’ advice:
“Start where you are.”
“Every Sunday when I went to watch film, he’d say, ‘Start where
you are, don’t dwell on the past. Just keep getting better right
now,”’ Ingram said.
The South Carolina game moved him into serious Heisman
territory. Ingram set a Bryant-Denny Stadium record with 246 yards.
He covered all 68 yards on a late drive to seal the game, running
five times out of the wildcat formation and taking a pitch for a
“They just put the ball in my hands,” Ingram said. “That
shows the kind of respect they have for me and the trust they have
in me. That wasn’t all me. I’ve got to give credit to the offensive
line and receivers.”
Not surprisingly, those kinds of comments have endeared him to
his blockers. Guard Mike Johnson said Ingram has handled the
Heisman hype “phenomenally.”
“Great kid, great teammate. As an offensive lineman, he thanks
us every day,” Johnson said. “He shakes our hands and really
shows he has confidence in us and (says) it’s because of us, and we
appreciate that from him.”
Alabama hasn’t had a player crack the Heisman top 10 since
Alexander was seventh in 1999. Quarterback Jay Barker was fifth in
1994 while receiver/return man David Palmer was third the previous
Ingram appears to have the best chance among that group.
“We’ve never had a Heisman and he’s been able to put together
such a great season and really come through in the clutch for us
all year,” Johnson said. “You can’t say enough about the kid. He
deserves everything he gets.”