Despite distractions, Ingram aims to improve

TUSCALOOSA _ When the cameras were turned off and University of Alabama running back Mark Ingram left the Nokia Theater in Times Square moments after being named the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, Nick Saban didn't waste any time in talking to him on their way to the subsequent press conference.
"I have three things for you," Saban said. "Is this going to change you?
"How are you going to respond to people in how they respond to you because they're going to act different toward you now?
"How are you going to affect other people because of the status you've gained by winning this award?"
Ingram didn't quite fully comprehend what the coach meant, especially with the second part, but has since been figuring it out. He's no longer just a college football player from Flint, Mich., or the son of a former NFL player.
"You're a role model for a lot of different people," he said Wednesday afternoon. "They look up to you and wherever you go people know who you are. They're always watching you to see what you're going to do. I kind of have a better understanding now."
Everyday things that most people take for granted, like going to the mall, the grocery store, catching a movie or even walking to class can be long and exhausting. Even a simple trip to Walmart by the Heisman winner will attract a ton of attention.
However, as Ingram says, it comes with the territory.
"It's crazy," he said. "Not just me, it's all of us. We just won the national championship and the SEC championship. Every player is getting it. You just learn to deal with it on the go.
"But it's all fun. It's something that you dream of when you're little."
Although requests for Ingram's time have skyrocketed, forcing school officials to essentially say no to everyone except the kind of people one really can't turn down, he's still a student, still a football player and still has to prepare for upcoming season like everyone else.
Ingram's added a little more muscle and is up to 215 pounds while continuing to meet his other team requirements. Granted, he set the Alabama single-season rushing record with 1,658 yards to help lead the Tide to its 13th national title, but the basic goal remains the same, to get better.
"There's always room for improvement," he said. "The day you stop improving is the day you stop playing."
Not only is he looking to do so personally, which should occur with more experience _ like continuing to learn how to read defenses _ but with the offense as a whole.
While this time a year ago the Crimson Tide was replacing most of the key offensive starters, this spring it's really just two linemen and a tight end. Granted, Roy Upchurch will also be missed in the backfield, but Trent Richardson and others appear more than ready to pick up whatever slack there may be.
"Yeah, I guess we can upgrade," said Ingram when asked if could potentially be like going from a Ford to a Cadillac. "We have to improve in a lot of things, third downs, scoring in the red area, every aspect we have to improve upon.
"We could upgrade to a Cadillac, or a Ferrari or something."
Meanwhile, Wednesday he was named a semifinalist for the prestigious AAU James E. Sullivan Award for the nation's top amateur athlete based on leadership, character, sportsmanship and the ideals of amateurism. Only five football players have won it: Doc Blanchard (Army 1945), Arnold Tucker (Army 1946), Charlie Ward (Florida State 1993), Peyton Manning (Tennessee 1997) and Tim Tebow (Florida 2007).
"It's a great honor," Ingram said.
The other finalists are:
-Angela Bizzarri of Illinois won the 2009 NCAA cross country national title as a senior and was theNCAA champion in the 5,000 meters.
-South Florida soccer player Zak Boggs received the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup Award, given to an athlete who has made the greatest positive influence on others.
-Boxer Duran Caferro Jr. won a national title and was named Native American Role Model of the Year for Montana.
-Basketball player Tina Charles led Connecticut to a perfect season and national title.
-Three-time Olympian Troy Dumais was named the 2009 USA Diving athlete of the year and won two silver medals in last year's world championships.
-Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards won the Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
-Erin Hamlin won a world championship in women's luge, breaking Germany's 16-year winning streak.
-Volleyball player Megan Hodge led Penn State to its third consecutive NCAA title.
-Clint Moore of Army batted .395 with 18 doubles and 11 home runs.
-Amy Palmiero-Winters set world records for amputee women at several distances as an ultra-marathoner.
-Two-time Olympic gold medalist Sanya Richards won the 2009 U.S. and world titles at 400 meters.
-Jennifer Song became the first woman in 21 years to win two U.S. Golf Association Championships in the same season.
-Southern California's Rebecca Soni won gold in the 100-meter breaststroke and silver in the 50 breaststroke in the world championships.
Nevertheless, that Heisman tag isn't going away, ever, and Ohio State's Archie Griffin remains the only person to ever win it twice. The second was the more controversial as Griffin's numbers decreased from 1,695 yards on 256 carries in 1974, to 1,450 yards and four touchdowns.
However, he still finished with a whopping 31 consecutive 100-yard games and 5,589 total yards.
Ingram has a few more months before that hype really kicks in, when Saban is sure to have some more timely advice.
"You're going to be evaluated in what you've done in the future," Saban said. "The awards you've won have to do with the past."