Ingram Adjusts To Heisman Life

Maybe it was just before his freshman year of high school football that Mark Ingram began thinking about winning the Heisman Trophy. And maybe it was about then that Jim McElwain, Alabama's offensive coordinator, had it cross his mind, too.

"Every little kid dreams about winning the Heisman Trophy," said Alabama sophomore Mark Ingram Monday when he was interviewed by media covering the BCS national championship game. The difference from Ingram and most little kids is that Ingram did it.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban ordinarily doesn't let his assistant coaches talk to reporters, but a couple of times a year there are exceptions. The BCS requires coordinators to be made available to media, and so on Monday Crimson Tide Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain had a chance to answer questions.

A fairly innocuous question was "When did you realize Mark was special?"

That type question usually produces an answer about as forgettable as the question. But McElwain had a surprise.

"He was actually going into his freshman year of high school," McElwain said. "I was at Michigan State. He came to camp with his team. And here was this little guy who was the best player in camp.

"And then I get here and Coach Saban said, ‘Yeah, we've got this kid out of Michigan that's coming.' I go, ‘Don't tell me it's Mark Ingram.' He said, ‘Yeah, it is.' I said, ‘That's a good get.' So a long time."

You want to say, "Unh Unh," but that's not much less likely than an Alabama player winning the Heisman Trophy.

Ingram spent about half his interview time with media talking about Alabama's upcoming BCS national championship game with Texas. The Crimson Tide and Longhorns meet at 5 p.m. PST (7 p.m. central time) Thursday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena with television coverage by CBS.

The rest of the time he was asked about various issues regarding him being awarded the Heisman Trophy, which goes to the nation's best college football player.

Some of that conversation is entertaining, such as his descriptions of fans striking the Heisman pose, and some is more poignant. Part II of Monday's Ingram interview is on the Heisman.

"Everywhere you go, people know who you are," Ingram said. "Every time your name is said, the words ‘Heisman Trophy' are there. It's exciting, but it's like living in a glass house. Everywhere you go, people know it.

"I've noticed it in airports in big cities like Atlanta or Chicago and people are coming up to you and recognizing you and wanting autographs and pictures. When you start getting noticed in big cities like that is when you are aware of it. I've had security take me back ways so I'll have a little peace."

He is aware of the Heisman jinx, that trophy winners have not had much success in bowl games in recent years. "That doesn't bother me at all, doesn't phase me at all," he said. He said he hasn't thought about anything except how to improve in order to help his team beat Texas.

But it's hard not to think about being the Heisman Trophy winner. He notices heads turning, people pointing and whispering to one another.

There are incessant demands for interviews and autographs and to pose with fans for photographs. "You try to take one to make someone happy, and then there are 15 or 20 more behind them," he said.

He knew that would be a part of it and he's not bothered by it. "At the same time," he said, "I know there are still lots of things I have to accomplish. Sometimes I want to be able to just focus on the ame and not have to worry about everything else.

"But it comes with it. You just have to be able to manage it."

Striking the Heisman pose is commonplace, which is not to say well done.

Ingram said at the ceremony that some of the past winners did it and some were pretty good, some funny. "I've seen girls do it," he said. "Little kids do it. Grown men do it. It's funny. Some people put up the wrong leg. Some people lift their leg off the ground, but the trophy has both feet on the ground. Some people put out the wrong arm or bend the wrong leg or both.

"I try to help them out, though."

One thing he has helped out is his hometown of Flint, Michigan, which has its share of problems.

"Back home it's crazy," he said. "Some of them are more happy than me. It's like they won it. The whole city won it. This is crazy. Everywhere you go back home they are so proud and happy that I am representing them in a positive way because there is so much negative about Flint. They are happy I can bring something positive."?

Although Ingram said that there is pride and love in Flint -- "It's like a big family" -- he said there are struggles and violence. He avoided those problems.

"Fortunately," he said, "my parents kept me out of the streets and kept me involved in school and sports and in the church, and I never got involved in the streets or violence."

Only one of his parents was on hand to see Ingram announced as the Heisman Trophy winner. His father, Mark, Sr., a former football star at Michigan State and with the New York Giants, is incarcerated for financial misdeeds.

"The fact I could bring that joy to him when he's in hard times is real special to me," Mark said. "And to all my family, who have been through so much, my mother and my sister, that I could do that for them was so special."

Mark said his father had good advice for him when they spoke on the telephone after the ceremony. "He said, ‘Congratulations.' And then he said, ‘You've got one more thing to go do.' So he was happy and proud that I did that, but at the same time he said, ‘Let's stay focused. We're not done yet.'"

That advice dovetailed with what Saban said. Ingram said his coach told him, "When people win awards, I think, they could kind of lose focus on what got them there, what got them to that point, what helped them get that award. It's great that you won that award, the Butkus or the Heisman or if you were All-American, you have to remember to do that and keep doing that, even more, so you'll have more success."

Ingram said that he had no idea going into this season he would be in Heisman contention. "I was really approaching the year of going out there and doing the best I could to help us win," he said.

"Our focus wasn't on winning the Heisman Trophy. That wasn't a goal or anything. But as the topic kept coming up, it was like in the back of my head."

On Friday before the presentation, Ingram was "hanging out" with Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, Heisman ceremony veterans. Tebow had won the award in 2007. Ingram said, "I told them , ‘I'm not nervous about this. I'm just having a good time, relaxing, and not nervous.' And Colt and Tebow were like, ‘You're going to be nervous, man. You're going to be nervous.' And I'm like, ‘No, man, I'm just like chilling out and I'm cool, man.' And I remember when he was reading the card, my heart was like beating out of my chest. It was a feeling you can't explain. Then I see it, and I can't believe that happened. I can't believe I was crying."

He still hasn't seen a replay of the entire program and his response. "I've watched little clips of it," he said. "I haven't watched it all the way through, but I've seen little clips. It's just a special moment."

One thing that changes for Ingram is that next year he joins all other former winners in having a Heisman Trophy vote.

Would have have voted for himself this year?

"I don't know," he said. He smiled and added, "Maybe next year."

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