Ingram Dismisses Heisman Chatter

Each year the Heisman Trophy goes to the nation's best college football player, provided he is a quarterback, or if there isn't a good enough quarterback, to a tailback. And everyone forgets the qualifiers. The Heisman is the Cadillac of individual awards in a team game.

As anyone reading this far knows, Alabama has never had a Heisman Trophy winner. Alabama has had teams that have beaten a lot of Heisman Trophy winners, and that's good. But one day, maybe...

Alabama has also had a lot of great running backs. This week a number of college football writers and analysts are looking at Crimson Tide sophomore tailback Mark Ingram as a Heisman Trophy candidate.

That's because Ingram did something last week that none of those great Alabama running backs had ever done before. He rushed 24 times for 246 yards at Bryant-Denny Stadium in a 20-6 win over South Carolina. Two other Bama backs—Shaun Alexander and Bobby Humphrey—had games in which they rushed for a few more yards, but not before the home crowd.

Ingram, who is now the leading rusher in the Southeastern Conference this year, tries not to be rude, but he is reluctant to talk about the Heisman Trophy. If only reporters would let it go.

"It's an honor to be considered as one of the top candidates for that award, but I'm not too worried about it." Ingram said following Tuesday's practice. "I'm really just worried about helping this team win and get better every day as a player, just helping us win. You know, if we just keep winning and I keep performing, everything else will take care of itself."

Ingram has done his part to help Alabama go 7-0 and reach the top of the Associated Press poll. Bama, 4-0 in SEC games, hosts Tennessee at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. The game kicks off at 2:30 p.m. CDT with CBS showing Ingram to the nation.

If Ingram had watched some television sports recaps on Sunday he would have seen a lot of video of his runs against South Carolina and heard the opening stanza of the Ingram for Heisman hype.

But he didn't.

"I came up here and watched a little film, like I do most Sundays," Ingram said. "I didn't really watch too much TV. I just came up here and watched film and tried to get a little head start on Tennessee.

"Whatever we have to do to help the team win, it really doesn't matter to me. I'm just worried about going out and getting better every day, as a team, as a player, and keep winning games."

Ingram has had some personal gratification, as his coach, Nick Saban, phrases it. "I've heard from some old friends in high school and stuff, people back home," Ingram said. "People are excited for me and obviously it makes you feel good, but you just have to keep moving forward and look ahead, not backward."

Home is Flint, Michigan.

Ingram said, "Coach Saban emphasizes it's about the team. Everybody join together so we can have great chemistry and so we can carry that chemistry off the field, on the field, and be a great team. When you have a great team, the more awards people win, because everybody gets to know you just a little bit more. I just think it's more important to be a part of a great team and accomplish team awards, like win a national championship, win the SEC championship, as opposed to winning individual awards."

Ingram insists there is no pressure related to Heisman talk. "I'm not worried about it," he said. "I'm just really focused on getting better as a player every day, helping this team win games. If I do that, everything else will take care of itself, so I don't really feel any pressure from other people because it's all about this team, and my teammates have my back. They're going to help me out and I'm going to work as hard as I can to help us make plays in the game. Everybody else thinks it's pressure, but around here, they kind of take the pressure off of you a little bit."

There was a scare Saturday when Ingram suffered a knee injury, but it proved to be a hurt, not an injury. "A dude got a clean shot at my knee," Ingram said. "I was in some pretty bad pain, but I just had to come back and fight through it. I had to walk on it, run around on it a little bit and get it loose again. It was hurting throughout the game, but I just had to get on the (exercise) bike and keep it loose. That's just part of it. You've got to fight through stuff. Everybody's going to be hurt around this time of the season."

He said he was "a little sore" on Sunday. The remedy? "Sit in the ice tub, get a little treatment, run around a little bit Monday. The kinks are out right now. It takes a few days to heal, but you get back."

Ingram insists he didn't know that it was Oh, what a night! against South Carolina. "I kind of was shocked by the number of yards at the end of the game because I don't pay attention to yards or anything," he said. "I just try to make the most of every opportunity I have. I know I squirted out on a few big runs, but I think I had about 10 yards a carry. That was kind of surprising, too. That‘s just a tribute to the line and the receivers blocking downfield. They did a great job opening up seams for us the whole night. That's just a tribute to them. That's not all just me. There had to be some blocking going on for me to do that. I just have to thank the line and the receivers for giving me the opportunity to make those big runs."

He found out the numbers when he was interviewed on ESPN following the game.

Ingram was particularly effective in a long touchdown drive in which he carried the ball on every play and all but one play—the touchdown run—was from the wildcat formation. "I've always liked the wildcat," he said. "It just gives us a different look. I think it was especially successful for us in that last game because we had run it a few games but had not run it in the entire (South Carolina) game. To come out with it on the last drive, in the circumstance that it was, I think it caught them off guard. We had a lot of success with it, the line did a great job of executing it and the receivers did a great job. I think that was the best drive we had as a team the whole game."

Ingram has run for nearly 500 yards in the past three games. "Sometimes things just click," was the Ingram explanation. "The line has been doing a great job creating little seams for me to run through, the receivers are doing a great job blocking downfield to have those explosive runs. So the offense is clicking a lot as far as the running game is going. We've got to obviously step it up in the passing game but it's just all 11 players starting to click in the running game. That's just opened up more opportunities for me and the other running backs, too."

Ingram said his running style has not changed.

"I think the year under your belt helps you grow so much as a player," he said. "Things are just slowing down for me a little bit and I'm just more comfortable out there running the ball."

Is he stronger?

Ingram said, "This off-season, I tried to drop a few pounds and get in a little better shape because to play and enhance your best potential throughout the game, you've got to be in top-notch shape. When other people are running down in the fourth quarter, you're still strong. You've got to take pride in your conditioning. I did in the off-season, I worked hard at it, and it's showing now in the fourth quarter. I stay strong a lot.

"It looks like I'm getting stronger because a lot of other people are slowing down, but I'm running at the same speed."

The next team to try to slow down Ingram will be the Tennessee Vols. Ingram has gotten a look at UT. "They're real fast, athletic,," Ingram said. "They move around a lot; trying to disrupt you. They disrupt a lot of things you do. Obviously, they have a great player in Eric Berry and a linebacker corps that's nice. We‘ve just got to go out and approach this game like you do every other game--take it day by day, keep improving as a team and just go out and make improvements on Saturday and execute."

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