Doubts erased when Ingram runs a 4.53

In 4.53 seconds, Cornelius Ingram erased any doubts about his surgically repaired knee Wednesday morning. After turning in a 4.61 40 on his first attempt while NFL scouts and assistant coaches watched, Ingram turned in a 4.53 on his second attempt, a time that could send his draft stock soaring.

This was Pro Day at the University of Florida, a time for 12 Gators to get measured, lift weights and run for the scouts who have a little more than a month to make their final recommendations before the April 25-26 NFL Draft. Florida’s All-American wide receiver Percy Harvin was the marquee name and he didn’t disappoint, even though he didn’t run the 40, but nobody helped himself more than Ingram, who missed the 2008 season with an ACL injury suffered in a non-contact drill back in August.

“I’ll never forget that day as long as I live,” said Florida coach Urban Meyer. “Nothing happened … a non-contact injury and all of a sudden here’s this freak athlete, great person who came back for his last year and he couldn’t play.”

Normally it takes nine months to a year to come back from an ACL but Ingram’s hard work and determination to be ready to go full speed prior to the draft paid off with the kind of performance that might prove to be worth six figures in bonus money. Drew Rosenhaus, Ingram’s agent told reporters that he is being told Ingram has moved into the second round discussions.

Ingram has always had the body and the athletic ability to go high in the draft, but Wednesday he proved that the speed didn’t disappear when the surgeon repaired his ACL.

“Look at him,” said his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. “He’s 6-4 and 246 pounds and he just ran a 40 that’s in the low 4.5s. On this grass that’s really fast and he caught everything they threw at him. There aren’t that many guys in the league at tight end that can run as fast as he has who have his kind of size and weight. Then you factor in he has great hands and knows what to do with the ball once he catches it. He’s smart, well spoken, he’s from a great family and he’s got impeccable character. This kid has everything they’re looking for in a football player.”

Ingram doesn’t know where he’s going to be drafted or who is going to draft him. The only thing he knows is he’s getting a chance and that’s a real blessing considering he was at one of life’s low points way back in August of last year when he tore his ACL.

“It’s good to be back,” said Ingram with an easy smile. “I always trusted God and in the back of my mind, I always knew I would be able to come back and run fast again, but there is something in the back of your mind that always makes you doubt just a little bit until you actually go out there and do it. It’s just a real blessing that I got this chance to show what I could do today.”

Because he grew up in Florida, Ingram has always been partial to the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tampa Bay Bucs and Miami Dolphins but he doesn’t care which team drafts him.

“I’ve been in Florida my whole life so whatever happens happens,” he said. “I can’t really say because then on every website and every newspaper it will say I only want to play for one team and that’s definitely not the case. Whoever drafts me is going to get a good player and a hard working guy.”

Meyer beamed when asked about Ingram, whom he called “The Face of Florida Football” last spring. After an outstanding junior year, Ingram made the choice to come back to Florida to become a better player but also to try to get a national championship ring. When Ingram went down with the injury, he didn’t waste his time feeling sorry for himself but instead dedicated all his efforts to get ready to for the NFL Combine and Pro Day.

Now Ingram will have his chance to play pro football and he also has a college degree from Florida as a foundation for life.

“He’s got his degree and he’s going to get his shot to play in the NFL,” Meyer said. “That was his goal and he’s going to get a good shot. These scouts and coaches say great things about him.”

* * *

Harvin, who measured 5-11 and 197 pounds, came to Pro Day prepared to run the 40 but the scouts told him they already knew he was plenty fast. They didn’t need to see him run the 40. What they wanted was to watch him run routes and catch the ball.

“I out on my shoes and I actually wanted to run and the scouts kind of looked at me and told me they had seen enough,” said Harvin, who is being projected as a first round draft pick. “They were good. The main thing they wanted was to see me run my routes and get out on my breaks.”

Harvin ran routes and caught passes from former Gator and NFL quarterback Doug Johnson, who came away thoroughly impressed.

“I think he’s going to be a great player,” Johnson said. “He runs great routes, makes all the catches and he’s got the speed so he can really close on the ball when it’s in the air. He can make a quarterback look good.”

While some athletes go work out at special training facilities, Harvin, Ingram and Louis Murphy will remain in Gainesville so Florida’s strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti can oversee their physical conditioning.

“I feel Coach Mick is second to none,” Harvin said. “He brought the best out of me ever since I came to Florida so I’m sticking with what got me here and I’m going to ride it all out.”

At Florida, Harvin was a hybrid running back/wide receiver. He caught 133 passes in his three-year Florida career, good for 1,929 yards and 13 touchdowns and he rushed for 1,851 yards and 19 touchdowns. He averaged better than 11.5 yards every time he touched the ball as a Gator and one touchdown for every 10 times he had the ball in his hands.

In the NFL, he will be expected to be more of a field stretcher, a deep threat who can use his great speed to force safeties to play 20 or more yards off the ball. He usually ran shorter routes while at Florida, and while he loves to catch the short pass and make people miss he’s ready to make the adjustment to becoming a deep threat.

“I don’t consider myself a pure receiver or a pure running back,” he said. “I always considered myself an athlete and anything that needs to be done on the field I feel that I can do it whether it’s at running back, in the slot or being the deep wide. A lot of scouts were pleased seeing me run routes so I’m just going to hope for the best.”

* * *

For Louis Murphy, Wednesday morning was one more promise kept. Before his mom died, Murphy promised her that he would work as hard as he had to work to fulfill his dream of becoming an NFL wide receiver. Whether his goal was football or something else, Murphy’s mom wanted Louis to dedicate himself to being the best.

Before he took the field Wednesday morning, Murphy said a prayer and spent some time talking to his mom.

“I prayed this morning and talked to my mother,” he said. “I told her I was going to be here and I was going to do everything I could to make her proud again today and hopefully I did that. Hopefully she’s in heaven right now smiling at me.”

Murphy is being projected as a third rounder who could possibly slip into the second round because he has tremendous speed. Asked what is the first thing he will do with his bonus money when he gets his NFL contract, Murphy didn’t even hesitate with his answer.

“I’m going to give my tithe first,” he said. “I’m a big Christian and God blessed me with all this talent. I can’t overlook him. We wouldn’t have that ‘08 [national championship] up there if it wasn’t for him so I’m just going to give my tithes and help my family out. I know a lot of families are struggling so I want to be able to help them and be a blessing.”

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.