January 7, 2009

Ingram has no regrets despite knee injury

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MIAMI Florida tight end Cornelius Ingram insists he has no regrets.

Rated as a potential second-round pick after his junior season, Ingram chose to return to school for his senior season, only to tear the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in August.

After catching 34 passes for 508 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns last season, Ingram has spent this season cheering on his teammates and rehabilitating his knee as he gets ready for the NFL Scouting Combine.

"When I made my decision to come back to school, I told myself that I wasn't going to regret it because that was the decision I made, no matter what happened," Ingram said this week as his teammates prepared for Thursday's BCS Championship Game against Oklahoma. "Even when that [injury] came about, I couldn't tell myself I regretted it because that was the decision I made, to come back to school."

Ingram's decision could help him earn a second national championship ring, but it already has lost him quite a bit of money.

Rob Rang, the senior analyst for nfldraftscout.com, rated Ingram as a second- or third-round pick after his junior season, though that grade could have changed depending on his performance at the Combine. Rang's site now has Ingram getting taken in the sixth or seventh round, though he could help himself quite a bit if he proves at the Combine that his knee has fully healed.

"If he works out and is cleared medically, I expect him to be in the middle rounds and possibly even earlier than that," Rang said. "I'd be surprised if he's in the sixth- or seventh-round area if he can prove he's healthy. He would move up at least into the middle rounds."

Ingram's injury hit his teammates hard because they knew he was taking a risk by coming back to school. The news was even tougher to take because the injury didn't originally seem so serious.

"It was heartbreaking to see that 'CI' was out for the year," Florida wide receiver Louis Murphy said. "He did it in one-on-ones and practiced the rest of the day. After he tore his ACL, he continued to run. It was in period four or five, and we had 18 [practice] periods that day."

Although Ingram hasn't played a down this season, his teammates say he remains a vital part of the team. Ingram commands enough respect that he was named a team captain even after suffering his season-ending injury.

Florida running back/punt returner Brandon James refers to Ingram as his big brother and credits him for helping the team overcome its early season loss to Ole Miss.

"With the early loss, everyone just had their heads down," James said. "He was kind of the guy who kept us in line."

Ingram wasn't initially comfortable in his new role as a non-playing contributor. Whenever he watched a game from the sidelines, he felt the temptation to get back in the huddle.

"The first game, I didn't even know what to do. I stayed out there the first half and got a little frustrated, so I went into the locker room and watched the second half inside," he said. "It was really tough."

Ingram eventually got used to it. He stayed with the team as much as possible by attending meetings and workouts. He also has rehabilitated his knee and watched it strengthen to the point that Florida coach Urban Meyer had to dismiss speculation that Ingram might play in the championship game.

Meyer said he couldn't risk Ingram getting hurt again just four months after undergoing knee surgery, though Ingram has indicated he will dress for the game.

"I'm at least close to 90-95 percent right now," Ingram said. "If I had maybe a week or two more where I could really practice with the team and go through the contact process that's the main thing I haven't done. I've been running routes at full speed, making cuts, doing drills and things like that. I feel really good. It's just the contact part."

Ingram said he has received an invitation to the East-West Shrine Game, but he hasn't decided whether to play in the Jan. 17 all-star game in Houston. He may instead just prepare for the Combine, which will go a long way toward determining whether Ingram can climb out of the draft's later rounds.

Ingram looks forward to showing NFL scouts that his health isn't an issue.

"If I do everything the right way, just live right and try to work out and take care of everything I have to take care of, I'm pretty sure God will bless me and everything will work out," Ingram said.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.


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