|His father remains in prison, but Alabama’s Mark Ingram Jr. is headed for the NFL. (Dave Martin/ Getty Images)|
Son has been able to shine
Dad’s deeds don’t dog Ingram Jr.
When running back Mark Ingram Jr. makes his NFL debut, his father will be watching, as he always does.
But unlike most proud parents, Ingram Sr. probably won’t be in the stands. Not because of nerves or superstition or even finances — but because of the federal government.
Mark Ingram Sr., a Super Bowl-winning receiver with the Giants who also played for the Dolphins, Packers, and Eagles before retiring in 1996, is in FCI-Beaumont, a low-security federal prison in Texas.
Sentenced to seven years in prison for money laundering and bank fraud in 2008, Ingram was given an extension on his prison reporting date to see Mark Jr. play his freshman season with Alabama. But he was denied a second extension to travel to the Crimson Tide’s bowl game, which is when he decided to jump bail.
Authorities caught up to Ingram in a Flint, Mich., hotel room just minutes before Alabama was to face Utah in the Sugar Bowl. He was watching the pregame show when police arrived.
So as Mark Jr. developed from contributing freshman into superstar sophomore, his father was watching on television — from the common room of a federal facility in Queens, N.Y.
A little more than a year ago, a New York judge tacked two more years onto his sentence for going on the lam. Ingram’s release date is now November 2014; it’s not so long that he may never see his son play an NFL game in person, but long enough that he’ll be spending Sundays during the early years of his career watching on television.
Amid all of this, Mark Jr. powered Alabama to the 2009 BCS championship, picking up the Heisman Trophy along the way for his school-record 1,658 rushing yards (he averaged 6.1 yards per carry), with 334 more yards coming as a receiver. He totaled 20 touchdowns, 17 on the ground.
In the storied history of Alabama football, no player had ever before brought the iconic bronze trophy to the Tuscaloosa campus.
But Ingram’s quest for a second Heisman and a second straight title for Alabama was derailed before his junior season even began. He underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee just before the Crimson Tide opened the year against San Jose State and missed two games.
He returned in Game 3, against Penn State, and wound up splitting the load with sophomore Trent Richardson; his carries dropped from 271 in his Heisman-winning season to 158 last fall, his rushing yards to 875, though he still picked up a solid 5.6 yards per carry. Ingram did find the end zone 13 times, giving him an impressive 42 rushing touchdowns for his career, one more than former school record-holder Shaun Alexander.
Though things didn’t go the way he’d planned as a junior, Ingram wasn’t lamenting his disappointing season and was able to find positives in it.
“Just more knowledge as a player, just learning the game more, learning how to deal with success, learning how to handle tough times as well,’’ he said. “I’m just growing up as a person and as a player.’’
Though NFL Network draft analyst Michael Lombardi recently said that two teams have taken Ingram off their draft boards over concerns about his knee, he firmly denied there were any issues.
“I don’t know where the reports have come from,’’ he said. “I guess somebody wants me to fall down the board. But my knee is 100 percent. It’s strong. It’s healthy.’’
Because he played for Bill Belichick’s friend Nick Saban at Alabama, and since the Patriots have a need at running back, many have targeted Ingram as a potential New England pick in next week’s draft. He made a visit to Foxborough this week, likely for the New England medical staff to check out that left knee.
This year’s class of running backs is deep, Lombardi added, but not flush with talent. Ingram stands out because of his résumé, but there are other backs similar to him.
Another draft evaluator, ESPN’s Todd McShay, said Ingram’s measurables aren’t ideal, but his instincts set him apart.
“It’s highly likely that Ingram is the only running back taken off the board in the first round,’’ McShay said. “He doesn’t have the prototypical body and he doesn’t run the fast 40 time, but his instincts and the way he runs — pad level, low center of gravity, ability to create yards after contact — he has such a great sense of the cut-back lane. He has that innate sense that the great backs have.’’
Ingram has drawn comparisons to Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher. He said it was “a great honor to even be mentioned in the same breath as him’’ but did not seem caught up in the idea.
The Smith comparison aside, the consensus seems to be that Ingram isn’t going to wow anyone. As former NFL general manager Charley Casserly noted, he isn’t the type of back you have to set your defense for, a la Adrian Peterson. But the overall feeling is that his competitiveness and instincts will earn Ingram a solid career at the pro level.
The subject of his father inevitably came up at the combine, and Ingram said the two speak regularly. Asked what their relationship is like, Mark Jr. said simply, “He’s my dad.’’
Himself a former first-round pick, Mark Sr. tells his son to have fun and do the best he can while he goes through the hectic predraft schedule.
The son, who has seen his father as a successful NFL player and also seen him hit bottom, is not about to take anything for granted.
“I just want to go out and show what I have,’’ he said, “and if somebody wants to pull the trigger, and likes the way I present myself and likes the way I compete, in the end I’m just going to go out there and do what I know how to do.
“It’s just a great opportunity, an opportunity I’ve dreamed of my whole life. And it truly is a blessing to be here and have this opportunity to play at the next level and showcase what I have.’’
Material from Associated Press was used in this report