The Saban Top 100: No. 3 Mark Ingram II

BamaCentral is ranking the top 100 players of the Nick Saban era at Alabama over the course of the 2020 football season
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3] Mark Ingram II, RB

  • Won 2009 Heisman Trophy
  • 2009 SEC Offensive Player of the Year
  • 2009 Unanimous All-American
  • 2009 All-SEC
  • First-round pick 2011 NFL Draft
  • During the 2009 SEC Championship Game rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns, while also catching two passes for 76 receiving yards to combine for 189 all-purpose yards against Florida. While doing so surpassed Bobby Humphrey’s single-season rushing record for the Crimson Tide (1,471)
  • Was named Offensive MVP of 2010 BCS National Championship Game after rushing for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries
  • For the 2009 season, Ingram rushed for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns, and also had 334 receiving yards with three touchdowns
  • Finished Crimson Tide career with 3,261 rushing yards in 41 games (24 starts), and had 42 rushing touchdowns. Also had 60 receptions for 670 yards and four more scores

It was probably the most memorable pushup you’ll ever see.

Alabama running back Mark Ingram was giving an ESPN film crew a tour of the football facilities as part of its 2010 preseason all-access show and a producer was trying to come up with an easy way to demonstrate how athletically impressive the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner really was.

There was the filming of the Tiger Woods-esque skill of repeatedly bouncing a golf ball off a club, but he wanted to balance that by also showing Ingram’s physical raw strength in some way. So Ingram was challenged to a pushup contest, who in turn gave him something much better visually: “I can do a pushup that you can’t.”

With the camera rolling the junior approached the wall of the bottom-floor tiled hallway in the football building, flipped himself over onto his hands, found his balance without touching anything and then did the full-body descent and subsequent lift as effortlessly as the golf trick that also took just one take.

That’s why junior center William Vlachos would say Ingram’s the best player he’s ever been around, and sophomore linebacker Dont’a Hightower was glad not to be on the opposing side during a game.

He did what the great ones do, make it look easy.

“I just want to be a better player,” Ingram said was his primary goal for his final season in crimson and white. “I want to be the best player I can be. I know there’s a lot of room for improvement.

“We can’t live off our past success.”

Ingram had been the first running back since Pitt’s Tony Dorsett in 1976 to win both the Heisman and the national championship during same season, but in 2010 he had a lot more stacked up against him than defenders.

Trent Richardson was worthy of more carries and Alabama also hoped to place a higher emphasis on the passing game. The schedule was vicious with seven straight opponents coming off bye weeks, plus Ingram suffered a preseason knee injury that kept him on the sideline for the first couple of games.

No program had ever won back-to-back BCS championship games, and the last team to successfully defend its Southeastern Conference title was Tennessee in 1997-98.

It was in sharp contrast to the undefeated 2009 season, when everything had fallen into place for Ingram and it was still the closest vote in Heisman history after he “only” had to beat out 2007 winner Tim Tebow, 2008 winner Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Toby Gerhart and Ndamukong Suh among others.

Then there were some of the personal factors, like the death of his grandfather Arthur Johnson just when camp opened, the man Ingram said taught him to compete. While those around him will never forget Ingram’s heart-felt speech while accepting the Heisman, he’ll always remember his grandfather’s reaction.

“He the happiest dude ever,” Ingram said. “We were taking pictures and stuff and he was talking in the middle of the pictures, so we have pictures and he’s just running his mouth. He was smiling, grabbing the trophy like it was his. He had three daughters so I guess I was like a son to him.

“He’s like my second father.”

That, in many ways helps explain why so many couldn’t help but be impressed after watching Ingram play or meeting him. It wasn’t just what he did, but how he went about doing it all.

Like the bouncing golf ball. It’s something many people who dedicate their lives to the sport will never be able to do, yet Ingram does with ease despite not having played regularly for years. He once shot a 69 while trying to qualify for a tournament in the eighth grade and when football wasn’t completely dominating his life in high school Ingram was a nine-time all-state track athlete and played basketball while his mother also had a steadfast rule that he needed at least a 3.0 GPA to keep playing sports.

“He has a lot of field presence, he has great vision,” said Alabama linebacker Chris Jordan, a former running back himself. “He can see the defense, read the defense and he knows where the cutbacks are before the cutback is even there, so he’s already cutting back before the hole is there so he’s hitting it full speed. He has great vision, footwork and speed.”

It led to his establishing the Alabama single-season rushing record with 1,658 yards in 2009, with a whopping 1,075 yards after contact (249 carries, 30 receptions) and 20 total touchdowns. Meanwhile, he needed just one finger to count his number of lost fumbles.

“Yards after contact, I think, is a mental thing, not letting the first man bring you down, trying to get as many yards as you can, try and make a play when your team needs the play,” Ingram said. “You just need to make a play for them. It’s something mental. I don’t think it's something you can work on. You can work on getting your knees up, pad level low.

“When it comes to game time it’s your willingness, your desire to keep getting extra guys, keep fighting, try and make a play for the team.”

That’s where the focus remained, beating that first man, then the next one and so on. To turn small gains into big gains. To, in the words of Coach Nick Saban, dominate, not just as a player but as an offense.

“We definitely want to be the best in school history, the best in the country,” Ingram said. “I think that's everyone's goal on our team, to best offense, the most explosive offense we can be. That's our attitude going into every single practice.”

“It's never gonna be easy.”

Especially for a Heisman winner who was the face of college football for a while. Every move he made, both on and off the field, was watched more closely than anyone in Crimson Tide history – yes, even Joe Namath when he was a student in the 19060s.

“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.”

A version of this story appeared in the 2010 Alabama game program for the Penn State game

The Saban Top 100 will be revealed over the course of the 2020 football season, with the top players unveiled one a day as part of BamaCentral's 25 Days of Christmas celebration.

The series thus far:


No. 4 Julio Jones

No. 5: Barrett Jones

No. 6: Jonathan Allen

No. 7: AJ McCarron

No. 8: Minkah Fitzpatrick

No. 9: C.J. Mosley

No. 10: Amari Cooper

No. 11: Rolando McClain

No. 12: Trent Richardson

No. 13: Andre Smith

No. 14: Quinnen Williams

No. 15: Dont'a Hightower

No. 16: Jerry Jeudy

No. 17: Jalen Hurts

No. 18: Reuben Foster

No. 19: Chance Warmack

No. 20: Mark Barron

No. 21: Jonah Williams

No. 22: Da'Ron Payne

No. 23: Ryan Kelly

No. 24: Landon Collins

No. 25: Cam Robinson

26-30: Terrence Cody, Calvin Ridley, Javier Arenas, Reggie Ragland, Jedrick Wills Jr.

31-35: Dee Milliner, D.J. Fluker, Marlon Humphrey, Rashad Evans, A'Shawn Robinson

36-40: Rashaan Evans, Dre Kirkpatrick, Marcell Dareus, Eddie Jackson, O.J. Howard

41-45: Courtney Upshaw, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Henry Ruggs III, Jarran Reed, Xavier McKinney

46-50: Dalvin Tomlinson, Antoine Caldwell, Kareem Jackson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Trevon Diggs

51-55: Mike Johnson, T.J. Yeldon, Ronnie Harrison, Damien Harris, JK Scott

56-60: Ross Pierschbacher, Eddie Lacy, Bradley Bozeman, Ryan Anderson, Glen Coffee

61-65: Greg McElroy, Josh Jacobs, Anfernee Jennings, James Carpenter, Kenyan Drake

66-70: Terrell Lewis, Blake Sims, Christian Miller, Irv Smith Jr., Tim Williams

71-75: Mack Wilson, ArDarius Stewart, Deionte Thompson, Raekwon Davis, Jalston Fowler

76-80: Josh Chapman, Cyrus Jones, Kevin Norwood, Isaiah Buggs, Jake Coker

81-85: Bo Scarbrough, Anthony Averett, Leigh Tiffin, Ed Stinson, DeQuan Menzie

86-90: Jesse Williams, Shaun Dion Hamilton, William Vlachos, Da'Shawn Hand, Arie Kouandjio

91-95: Nico Johnson, Wallace Gilberry, DJ Hall, Vinnie Sunseri, Quinton Dial

96-100: Trey DePriest, Damion Square, Christion Jones, John Parker Wilson, Simeon Castille