Ingram sets sights on 2nd Heisman
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Archie Griffin knows that one day he won’t be the only multiple Heisman winner.
“Somebody’s going to do it three times,” the former Ohio State star said. “It’s not going to be an easy deal, but somebody out there can get it done.”
Enter Alabama’s Mark Ingram.
The Crimson Tide running back has a chance this season to win his second, and if he sticks around for his senior year, possibly a third.
Last season he became the third straight sophomore to strike the Heisman pose, when only juniors and seniors had previously won the award.
But Florida’s Tim Tebow couldn’t do it. He made two unsuccessful runs at winning a second Heisman.
And Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford had his quest for a two-peat end early with a shoulder injury last season.
For his part, Ingram sidesteps talk of a Heisman repeat.
“You really can’t worry about that type of stuff,” the compact tailback said, “all the pressure that people put on you.”
But it’s there, and will likely be there all season. So will the scrutiny, the attention and of course the trophy — which is on display in Alabama’s football building. It’s the only one, after all, a Tide player has ever won.
Before the sophomore surplus, 11 juniors had won the Heisman since Griffin captured his second straight in 1975. Only Oklahoma running back Billy Sims (1978), BYU quarterback Ty Detmer (1990), Oklahoma quarterback Jason White (2003) and Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart (2004) returned for another shot.
The rest turned pro early.
Ingram has a couple of things in his favor: He plays for the defending national champions at a program that prides itself on winning national titles.
Bradford and Tebow say that makes winning Heisman No. 2 secondary.
“There was people talking about it, but in my mind it wasn’t a big deal because there was always so much more pressure in trying to win games and trying to win a championship than winning a Heisman,” said Tebow, now a Denver Broncos rookie.
“So, if you were maybe somewhere else where you didn’t have that pressure and that expectation of winning a championship, maybe the Heisman would affect you more. But I don’t think it really had an effect because of our level of expectations and then the expectations others put on us, too, were so high that you were always more focused on winning a championship than winning a Heisman.”
He came close — twice. Tebow was the first three-time finalist and the first player since Georgia’s Herschel Walker, the 1982 winner, to finish in the Top 5 three times. He was third in 2008 behind Bradford and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, and fifth last season.
Bradford never got a crack at it, injuring his right shoulder in both the season opener and his brief comeback attempt. He insists winning the Heisman a second time was pretty much a non-issue, anyway.
“I put no extra pressure on myself,” said Bradford, drafted No. 1 overall by St. Louis. “I think it depends on who you are but I’ve always had the approach that individual awards are really based on team success. I know going into each year you’re not playing for individual awards, you’re playing for championships. If you help your team, if you do what you’re supposed to do, then those things will come.”
It’s the same advice Ingram got from Tebow. The two became friends during the trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony last December.
“He just tells me don’t worry about all that, just to be the best player I can be,” Ingram said. “Just focus on being the best player I can be for my team and winning games, because that’s all that really matters. And that’s the same mindset that I have.
“It’s the same mindset that he had. You really can’t worry about that type of stuff, all the pressure that people put on you. You’ve just got to be focused on yourself and your teammates.”
One of those teammates might hinder Ingram’s chances to match his school-record 1,658 yards. Trent Richardson ran for 751 yards as a freshman and could be in line for even more carries this season.
Another challenge, says Andre Ware, is opposing defenders would love to take shots at the Heisman Trophy winner.
“The thing that you face is you’re everyone’s target when line up on Saturday,” said Ware, who left Houston for the NFL after winning the Heisman as a junior in 1989. “Everyone wants to say, ’I hit the Heisman Trophy winner.’ You become everyone’s claim to fame so to speak. So every weekend, because last year’s Heisman winner plays for Alabama, it’s ammunition enough but when you’ve got the Heisman winner on your team, everyone wants that shot to say that they beat the Heisman winner.”
Depending on who you ask, being the reigning Heisman Trophy winner doesn’t necessarily give you a leg up when the votes are tallied.
“I think it’s wide open and I think that’s the beauty of the award is that after last December you can wipe the slate clean and everybody starts over,” said Ware, now a college football analyst with ESPN. “It’s good to have the tag as the Heisman Trophy winner because it puts you on the board immediately for next year’s race. But the slate is absolutely wiped clean. It’s anybody’s race. There’s no clear-cut favorites in my mind.”
Griffin would write Ingram in as the front-runner — in pencil, of course.
“I always have the incumbent being the favorite because they won it the year before,” he said. “I know it’s tough to do, but you’ve got to have them up there pretty high. With the type of team that Alabama’s going to have and with what they’ve got coming back, I would imagine that he’s probably the favorite.”
Ingram publicly downplays the significance of another Heisman. Tide quarterback Greg McElroy doesn’t think he’s just being politically correct.
“I don’t think he’d be disappointed in what he does this year as long as he helps us win,” McElroy said. “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. Mark’s been able to do both and is really hungry to do both again, or give it a shot.”
Whatever happens, Griffin plans to take it all in.
“It doesn’t bother me if somebody wins it a second time or even a third time,” Griffin said. “It’s one of those situations where I just enjoy the race.”