Where's the respect?

HOOVER, Ala. - He was voted the No. 1 player in college football last season, yet a lot of folks question whether he's even the No. 1 running back on his team.

That's the irony facing Alabama's Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner.

Last fall he ran for 1,658 yards, averaged 6.1 yards per carry and scored 17 touchdowns in guiding the Crimson Tide to a 14-0 record and national title. He led the NCAA with 38 runs of 10 yards or more and with 13 runs of 20 yards or more.

In spite of these accomplishments, the 5-10, 212-pound junior from Flint, Mich., is viewed by some as Bama's second-best back. Several observers believe second-teamer Trent Richardson, who posted 751 yards, 5.2 yards per carry and 8 touchdowns as a freshman in 2009, would've bettered Ingram's numbers if given an equal number of carries.

Whether Ingram or Richardson is the better back, this much is certain: Richardson's presence keeps Ingram on his toes.

"We compete every single day," Ingram said at Wednesday's opening session of SEC Media Days. "He makes me better; I make him better. It's just nothing but an advantage to our team to have a 1-2 punch like that because when I'm in there, I'm fresh. He comes in, he's fresh. We're both making plays, both being explosive.

"He pushes me. I push him. We both get better by it. He's great. He's like a little brother to me."

Ingram and Richardson were such a dynamic duo last fall that they took a lot of pressure off of Greg McElroy, the first-year starter at quarterback. McElroy rallied from a slow start to complete 60.9 percent of his passes for 2,508 yards and 17 touchdowns versus just 4 interceptions. Based on spring practice, Ingram believes McElroy will be even better in 2010 than he was in 2009.

"He's just a lot more confident," Ingram said. "He knows a lot more about the game. He managed the game real well. He's just a great leader out there. He's real calm. He's been a vocal leader out there. He motivates the young guys to be the best they can be."

Ingram has changed since last season, as well. The Heisman Trophy gave him a taste of fame unlike anything he'd experienced previously.

"Definitely," he said. "Everywhere I go, people recognize me. They meet me and want to take pictures. That's exciting, something you dream about as a kid."

Being a celebrity is fun. Being a role model carries responsibilities, however, that Ingram does not take lightly.

"Having kids come up to you, you're a role model for them (and) they want to grow up like you … it's humbling. It's a blessing," he said. "I'm excited I can impact a young person's life like that. That's real special and real touching to me."

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