Commentary

One trophy left for Ingram

Originally Published: January 3, 2010
By Chris Low | ESPN.com

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Mark Ingram knew his life was going to change forever the instant he heard his name called that night at the Nokia Theatre in New York City.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
John David Mercer/US PresswireMark Ingram rushed for 1,658 yards and 17 TDs as a sophomore.

The Heisman Trophy has a way of doing that to a guy.

But Ingram wasn't about to allow the luster of one of sport's most prestigious awards to change him.

Or to change what was really important to him.

That's exactly what he thought about upon talking to his imprisoned father for the first time after winning the Heisman Trophy. He showed the kind of raw emotion that spoke volumes about what Ingram and his family have been through in the past year.

"Congratulations, but we've got one more thing to go do," Mark Ingram Sr. told his son over the phone from the Queens (N.Y.) Private Correctional Facility.

In other words, the trophy that counts awaits Thursday night when Alabama and Texas clash in the Citi BCS National Championship Game (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

"He was proud," Ingram said of his father, who once starred for the New York Giants before running into his legal problems. "But at the same time, he wanted me to stay focused because we're not done yet."

The hardest part for Ingram has been not having his father by his side to share in this special time.

They talk regularly by phone. Ingram Sr. is allowed to call collect. He's awaiting sentencing for failing to report to federal prison after he was convicted of money laundering and bank fraud charges. The reason he didn't report was because he wanted to see his son play in the SEC championship game last year, a game that was played a day after Ingram Sr. was scheduled to report.

It's a decision that might cost Ingram Sr. an additional two years on his prison sentence, and he could end up serving close to 10 years.

"It shows the type of bond we have as a father and son, that he would sacrifice that," Ingram Jr. said. "Any son has to appreciate that, but we have to move on."

Ingram has lived the last month of his life in what he says has been the ultimate glass house. Not only has the whole ordeal with his father played out in a very public manner but he suddenly has become one of the most visible athletes in the country.

"Everybody knows what you're doing, and everybody always sees you all the time," said Ingram, who had to be taken the back way through major airports by security personnel just to get to his gate without being mobbed.

It might have been good practice for what's sure to come Thursday night in the Rose Bowl.

Texas' defense, ranked first nationally against the run, would like to mob Ingram every time he touches the ball. The Longhorns are allowing just 62.1 yards per game on the ground and less than 2 yards per carry.

The last time they allowed a 100-yard rusher was at the Fiesta Bowl last season, when Ohio State's Beanie Wells rushed for 106 yards.

Ingram, meanwhile, rushed for 1,542 yards this season and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. He also caught 30 passes and did some of his best work after taking that first hit.

Of his 1,864 yards rushing and receiving, 1,012 came after contact.

"You can't just butt him down," Texas middle linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy said. "You see guys come in there and try to throw an arm in there or not wrap up, and it doesn't affect him. He keeps on going."

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesAfter winning the Heisman, Ingram's focus has been on the national championship.

Ingram is listed at 5-foot-10, but that's stretching it. He also runs a lot bigger than 212 pounds. But then, he has such a low center of gravity that he's hard to get a solid lick on, especially with how quickly he attacks the holes and how well he sees the creases.

But it's Alabama sophomore receiver Julio Jones who best describes Ingram's running style.

"You never have to worry about Mark's heart because you see it every time he runs the ball," Jones said.

His reputation as a ferocious competitor has served him well on the field, but it's the way he has gone about his business off the field that has endeared him so to his teammates.

"He's never had a big head," Alabama senior tight end Colin Peek said. "Mark's one of my best friends on the team and one of my favorite players to be around because he's always trying to make people better."

Ingram already has faced some of the better defenses in the country this season. He averaged 154 yards rushing against six defenses that rank in the top 30 nationally in total defense.

But he's not sure he's seen a better or faster defense than Texas, and that includes Florida.

In fact, when he looks at Texas on defense, it's almost as if he's looking at his own defense.

"Their scheme is real complex. They show you a lot of different looks and they're real fast, from the defensive line to the secondary," Ingram said. "They're all really fast and get to the ball and force you to do a lot of things you don't want to.

"When you look at them on film, you see 11 guys who can run."

Ingram is the eighth player this decade to win the Heisman Trophy and then play for the national championship the next month. Only one of those Heisman winners (USC's Matt Leinart) has gone home with the national championship trophy.

For that matter, only five people since 1950 have won a Heisman Trophy and a national championship in the same season. The names sound like a who's who in college football -- Matt Leinart (2004), Charles Woodson (1997), Danny Wuerffel (1996), Charlie Ward (1993) and Tony Dorsett (1976).

If there is a jinx, perhaps Ingram is the one to end it. After all, who would have believed back in August that he would have been anywhere on the Heisman Trophy radar?

"I don't believe in jinxes," Ingram said. "I believe in working hard, doing things the right way and believing in what you're doing.

"We've been doing that all year and aren't going to change now."

Chris Low covers college football for ESPN.com. You may contact him at Espnclow@aol.com.

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