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August 1, 2010

Ingram's historical run set to continue

Imagine for a moment that Mark Ingram decided to take a stroll in Tuscaloosa, say from the Bryant Museum near the heart of the University of Alabama campus, past Bryant-Denny Stadium and up The Strip. How far do you think he would get before being absolutely mobbed by fans?

The running back has to be guarded in restaurants, places like bowling alleys and the mall can be problematic and bars are completely out (although mostly because he's not 21 yet).

Even Ingram's first appearance at SEC Media Days was a little different, standing at the podium usually reserved for coaches and the last two years fellow Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. Things were relaxed a bit this time with a few other high-profile players like Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, Georgia receiver A.J. Green and Florida offensive lineman Mike Pouncey getting similar treatment, but you get the idea.

That's part of everyday life for Ingram.

"Everywhere I go, people recognize me," Ingram said. "They meet me, want to take pictures. That's exciting. Something you dream of as a kid. Having kids come up to you, you're a role model for them, they want to grow up like you are, it's humbling, a blessing.

"I'm excited I can impact a younger person's life like that. That's real special to me, real touching to me."

Of course, last season Ingram established a Crimson Tide record with 1,658 rushing yards, and 1,075 of his 1,992 all-purpose were after contact. Against ranked teams he averaged 189.0 all-purpose yards to help lead Alabama to the national championship.

Since then his "gloves" shot against Texas has been a regular part of the SportsCenter introduction, requests and invitations have reached absurd levels and Ingram's name was put on his high school scoreboard.

It's a lot for anyone to handle, never mind how every player he'll face this season will be trying to make a name for himself at Ingram's expense.

"I already told Mark that the first time he fumbles or has a bad game it's going to be because he won the Heisman Trophy, that's what the media will do," Coach Nick Saban said. "Basically you need to focus on the things that you need to do to be the best player you can be.

"They really don't draft Heisman trophies in the NFL, they draft players."

But if winning Alabama's first Heisman wasn't unique enough history will continue to be made this fall regardless. Although Ingram is the third straight sophomore to win the award he's the first ever to do so as a running back.

Herschel Walker probably could have won during his first two years, yet didn't until he was a junior and tallied 5,097 career yards, an NCAA record for three seasons. Since 1985, when Bo Jackson was previously the most recent SEC running back to win the award, only six running backs have taken home the Heisman: Barry Sanders, Rashaan Salaam, Eddie George, Ricky Williams, Ron Dayne and Reggie Bush. Each was either a senior or left early for the NFL.

Actually, just five running backs have continued to play college football with the Heisman in tow.

Army's Doc Blanchard captured it in 1945, but placed fourth behind teammate Glenn Davis the subsequent year.

Doak Walker of Southern Methodist won 1948 only to finish third his senior year when Notre Dame lineman Leon Hart won in a landslide.

Vic Janowicz, who was also a defensive standout, won in 1950 but subsequently struggled in the T-formation offense established by new coach Woody Hayes and failed to repeat as an All-American. However, he became the first of two Heisman winners to play both professional football and baseball, the other being Jackson.

Oklahoma's Billy Sims won in 1978, but just missed repeating and was runner-up to Charles White of Southern California as a senior.

Of course, the only two-time Heisman winner was 5-foot-9, 180-pound Ohio State running back Archie Griffin, nicknamed "Duckfoot," even though his production dipped his final year, 1975. He accumulated 1,695 rushing yards on 256 carries as a junior, 1,450 yards on 262 carries as a senior to beat out Southern California running back Anthony Davis and Cal running back Chuck Muncie, respectively.

When his career was over, Griffin's string of 100-yard games was 31, he had 5,589 rushing yards and helped lead Ohio State to four Big Ten titles (but no national championships).

Although the spotlight wasn't quite as intense then, Griffin seemed to handle the pressure as well as anyone. One of the more famous stories about him was he cast the deciding vote to name quarterback Cornelius Greene team MVP.

"He's a better young man than he is a football player, and he's the best football player I've ever seen," Hayes once said.

That's primarily how Ingram is trying to be like Griffin, although ...

"Of course that would be great, it's not my main focus," Ingram said. "My main focus right now is to better myself as a player each and every day, become the best player I can be for my football team, make the best out of what I can do, put myself in the best position where I can make a lot of plays so I can help our team win games.

"In that way, I'll be successful to myself. Not just winning the Heisman Trophy will determine whether I'm successful or not."

Ironically, that's what keyed Ingram winning the award last year, in the closest voting ever. To even have a shot Alabama had to run the table and win the showdown with Florida and Tebow in the SEC Championship Game. That same day he also needed help from the Big 12 title game, where Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh knocked quarterback Colt McCoy into second place.

So once again, Ingram's Heisman changes will primarily ride with the Crimson Tide's record.

"Having there only be one full-time Heisman winner ever in Archie Griffin I don't he'd be disappointed in what he does this year as long as he helps us win," quarterback Greg McElroy sad. "He won't even complain about touches or yards or catches whatsoever, he'll do whatever he can to help the team win. That's the epitome of college football, winning the Heisman Trophy and the national championship, and Mark's been able to do both and is really hungry to do both again, or give it a shot."

Few believe that Ingram can win Heisman No. 2, especially considering how everything had to fall into place last year. They also point to the Tide's brutal schedule and the development of Trent Richardson, voted preseason All-SEC by media last week despite not starting, who will likely cut into his numbers.

However there's one thing that no one seems be considering about Ingram, for whatever reason.

What if he's better?

"I've been working hard," Ingram said.


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