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Tide's Ingram rolls into draft


When the 2009 college football season came to a close, Alabama running back Mark Ingram was on top of the world.

But before Ingram played another down, he found himself on top of an operating table.

"The knee injury is a question mark in everybody's head," Ingram said. "My knee feels great. It's a non-issue."

As a sophomore in 2009, Ingram became the first Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy, while helping the Crimson Tide capture its first national championship since 1992.

Ingram appeared to be in better position than anyone had been in a long time to repeat as a Heisman Trophy winner last season, but that all changed with a knee injury suffered in the preseason that cost him two games and playing time once he returned.

But even after going from 1,658 yards rushing one year to 875 the next, Ingram still has managed to emerge as the highest-regarded running back in the upcoming NFL draft.

"Every football player has had injuries in high school or when they were younger in college," Ingram said. "It's just how you handle them, how you take care of your body, and how it affects you now.

"I feel great. I feel healthier than I've been in a long time, so I'm excited about that."

After a storybook season in 2009, the sequel had its share of twists and turns. Ingram's knee injury gave understudy Trent Richardson a chance to shine, and he responded with 210 yards and three touchdowns in the two games that Ingram missed.

The Tide seemed to be rolling again – now with a two-headed monster in the backfield - when Ingram tore off a 48-yard run on his first touch of the season, but a strong start to Alabama's title defense gave way to a soft middle. By season's end – a three-loss campaign - Ingram and Richardson combined to put up the numbers that Ingram had posted by himself a year earlier.

"I think it was just a team effort. Sometimes we'd have nine guys doing things right and two guys doing things wrong," Ingram said. "And of course I missed two games with a knee injury - so I battled that - and we had another great running back in Trent who needed his touches
as well.

"I grew as a person and as a player  - just more knowledge as a player, just learning the game more and learning how to deal with success and learning how to handle tough times as well."

With former NFL coach Nick Saban roaming the Crimson Tide sideline and a multitude of future pros on the roster, Ingram might have learned as much from Alabama's practice as he did its games.

"I think everybody that comes from Alabama is just mentally and physically prepared for the next level, just because of the type of system he runs and how he runs his program," Ingram said. "Practices were always intense. It got real competitive and real crazy out there sometimes. That definitely helped me be a better player."

When asked to brag on himself at the recent NFL Scouting Combine, Ingram characterized himself as a complete back, one capable of playing on every down and in every situation.

Others have a more specific comparison in mind, likening him to Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith.

"He's the leading rusher in NFL history. It's a great honor to even be mentioned in the same breath as him," Ingram said. "But it's just a comparison. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion.

"People get compared all the time, but I don't feel like I have to live up to being like Emmitt. Of course I'm going to try to be the best player I can be, definitely, but I'm going to take it one step at a time."


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