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Mark Ingram Likely Ends College Career With Win Over Former Favorite Team

Jan 1, 2011 – 7:55 PM
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Tim Povtak

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Mark IngramORLANDO, Fla. -- Mark Ingram grew up in a Michigan State home. The bed sheets, the blankets, the bean bag chair in his room, even the cups he drank milk from in the kitchen, all were adorned with Michigan State logos. So were the clothes he often wore.

His father starred there in football. His mother graduated from there. And he used to fall asleep at night, living in Flint, Mich., dreaming of one day being part of that team.

Although he never played for the Spartans he adored so much growing up -- they wanted him, he changed his mind -- he finally got the chance to play against them.

And he helped destroy them Saturday, which may have been the last thing he does as a University of Alabama football player.

Ingram ran for two early touchdowns, setting a tone that never changed as the Crimson Tide bulldozed the No. 7 Spartans, 49-7, at the Capital One Bowl, dominating the game from one end zone to the other.

It was a performance worthy of the defending national champions, and worthy of Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner who likely will leave school early and join the NFL.

"I was excited. It was a special game for me. It was the team I grew up rooting for, but it's not like I got too amped up or too crazy to play against them,'' Ingram said. "It was a good game for us, and a good way to end the season.''

It also might have been a good way to end his college career.

It sure looked like his plan as the team bus pulled away. Ingram left the Citrus Bowl Stadium clutching the football he carried into the end zone for the 43rd career rushing touchdown of his career, setting a new record for one of college football's most storied programs.

"It's going to be a tough decision, a life-changing decision,'' he said. "I'll talk to my coach, my family and make a decision that is best for me, either going back to school or leaving.''

When asked what he would miss the most if the leaves, he smiled.

"Everything from A to Z,'' he said.

As a junior, he didn't come close to duplicating his magical Heisman season of 2009 -- 17 touchdowns, 1,658 yards rushing -- but it wasn't about quantity. It was more about quality, like his performance Saturday, and keeping him fresh.

He carried only 12 times for 60 yards and two touchdowns, but he hardly played in the second half -- carried only twice -- because the game was so lopsided.

He used his one reception to create another highlight clip, catching a short pass and showing all the quickness and elusiveness that the NFL craves, turning it into a 30-yard gain. He broke four tackles after the catch with his rare combination of power and acceleration, setting up his second touchdown on the very next play.

"Mark is about as great a competitor are you're ever going to be around,'' said Alabama Coach Nick Saban, who sure sounded like he was giving a farewell-to-Mark speech. "I remember when Mark first came. He used to try and run over every defensive player. He wanted to score a touchdown every time he got the ball. That probably is his greatest asset, the competitive spirit he has.''

It was Saban who lured Ingram out of Michigan and coaxed him to Alabama. Saban was an assistant coach at Michigan State in the mid-80s, when Ingram's father played there at wide receiver, becoming a first-round NFL draft pick and eventually reaching the Super Bowl with the Giants. That connection paid off handsomely for Saban at Alabama.

"Everything in the house is crimson now,'' Ingram said.

After missing the first two games this season following knee surgery in August, Ingram regained his stride quickly, carrying just nine times for 151 yards and two touchdowns in Game 3, then 157 yards and two touchdowns in Game 4 against Arkansas.

From there, his production slowed as Alabama started using backups Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, a sophomore and a freshman, respectively. Richardson scored once Saturday and Lacy scored twice, including a 62-yard run for Alabama's final touchdown.

The running backs in waiting are ready. And at 5-foot-10, 215 pounds, Ingram is not built for long-term durability, which is something that he, his father and Saban know. After returning for Game 3, he fought through ankle and shoulder problems, but he stayed in the lineup.

He is built to shine now, and he may as well be doing it for pay instead of risking more injuries for a team that already has replacements in place.

"This was a tough season, but showed how fragile a season can be,'' Ingram said. "Sometimes success comes through adversity. To overcome the adversity I did, it shows the type of character I have.''
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