After two years of rehabbing his torn anterior cruciate ligament, two years of watching while other tight ends succeeded in his stead and two years of sitting in the background while yearning to get back on the field to play his favorite sport, Philadelphia Eagles tight end Cornelius Ingram decided to spend his free month before 2010 training camp begins starting a charity and spending a half hour talking about his career and life with OGGOA. The former Florida Gators breakout star, now back in town to relax with family and work out with some of his former coaches, reminisced about his struggles, successes and what he hopes to accomplish in his hometown.
ADAM SILVERSTEIN: Let’s start off with the most important question first…how is your knee? Last we heard you were back to full speed and participating in mini camp.
CORNELIUS INGRAM: “That’s 100 percent correct. I feel good. I was able to go through OTAs and minicamp and I had a pretty successful one as well. I feel good. The knee’s back to 100 percent, so I’m excited about the season.”
AS: Obviously it is tough going into a situation where you are hoping to contribute right away only to get backtracked with basically the same injury again. What were your thoughts when you found out you had to sit out another full year after tearing your ACL?
CI: “It was tough. If anybody is doing something that they have a passion for and they love it, regardless if its sports or not, it’s tough when you love to do something and it’s something you’ve been doing your whole life – it’s very hard to sit out and watch other guys be successful. I’m a pretty competitive guy, so I’m always trying to do my best at whatever I’m doing. It was very tough being [injured] two years in a row. But the good thing I can say – I was still able to go to meetings. I was lifting weights; I was still able to watch film with the team during the course of game week. I still felt like I got better in certain areas, but at the end of the day, there’s nothing like being on the field.”
Read the rest of our exclusive interview with Cornelius Ingram…after the break!
AS: The problems with your knee first began when you tore your ACL in the 2008 offseason. How difficult was that for you – knowing you were coming off the best year of your career and finally named a team captain but unable to participate?
CI: “You said it all right there. That was my whole focus – to come back to school, finish school first of all, and try to get drafted as high as possible. I knew I was a highly rated player coming back, and I knew we had a great team – [we had] what it took to win a National Championship. It was definitely tough the first time, but I think the similarities between the University of Florida and the Philadelphia Eagles are [that] we’re surrounded by great people and great coaches and great players. They don’t make mistakes on who they draft or who they recruit. It was almost like the same atmosphere when I got to Philadelphia that I had at Florida – guys still came in the training room, and we laughed and talked just like I was out there catching passes. That actually made my rehab ten times smoother. You kind of felt like you were still being cared about even though you weren’t out there on the field. It was a great feeling. […] They could have easily forgotten about the guy who is in the training room, because their job is a lot harder preparing every week. I couldn’t be at a better place because, once I left Florida – a great university, I went to a great organization – the Philadelphia Eagles.”
AS: Each time you got injured, another tight end was thrust into the spotlight. Aaron Hernandez took over with the Gators and Brent Celek broke out with the Eagles.
CI: “Hernandez came in highly rated – there was no question that the guy could play. Once he got here, he was one of those competitive guys as well. I knew that he was going to be a special guy. He made a lot of special plays; I made sure I caught all the games. Even when I was hurt and I was there, we would talk, he would ask questions. He was just one of those guys who had that football player mentality in him regardless of what was going on. I knew the position was still in good hands, because he was one of those guys who pushed me – and I pushed him back. It was a great feeling. Like you said, Brent Celek had a phenomenal year last year. He is one of those guys where, regardless of what he had going on, he would take time out to help. Day one, when I stepped out on the field, I would ask questions and he never hesitated to answer. He always made sure I understood I knew what I was doing and what was going on. I promise you when I say this: I couldn’t have been at a better college or at a better organization.”
AS: There is no doubt you are a big-time athlete, but at Florida you went through a bunch of transitions going back-and-forth between basketball and football and becoming a pretty dominant tight end after starting out as a quarterback. Was it difficult for you having to make that many changes?
CI: “It was pretty tough to go through the transitions but, at the same time, when I was in high school I used to joke with my team at football practice that I’m the best receiver that we don’t have. Laughing… I knew I was a pretty good athlete; it really didn’t matter what position I played. Growing up, when your dad is the head Pop Warner coach, it was like I automatically had to play quarterback. I was brought up playing quarterback and never played any other position until I made that transition in college. It was different, but I thought, ‘Hey, I can catch the ball. I can run routes – that’s natural. But I have never put my hands on anyone or blocked or anything like that. Am I really ready to do this?’ It took a little time to get used to the blocking. As you know, in that spread offense, I was basically just a big receiver in the offense. At the end of the day, everything happens for a reason and going through all of these transitions made me a better person and a better man.”
AS: Jordan Reed, a quarterback last year, is making the same transition you did to tight end. Have you spoken to him about it? If not, what kind of advice would you give him?
CI: “I just got back in town last week, and I just met with coach [Urban] Meyer last Friday, so I just started working out back on campus. I’ll be there until the end of July before I report to training camp. I haven’t seen him yet, but that will definitely be something I put on my list to make sure I do before I leave. I have heard a lot of great things about the kid, and I’m pretty sure that – if he is at the University of Florida – he can definitely play. If the coaches believe he can make the transition, they see something special in him. I always heard [that switching positions was bad], but change is not always bad. I always made the best of what I went through, and I’m pretty sure he can do the same thing. […] I’ll be here until the end of July, so I’ll be able to talk to him about how I made my transition – what I did to get to being a tight end in our offense – and I’m pretty sure he’ll listen. That will definitely be something I do before I leave.”
AS: Have you spoken or kept in touch much with Billy Donovan since you graduated?
CI: “I haven’t spoken to Billy since I left. It’s funny you said that because his youngest son played my brother’s high school basketball team the other night – Thursday of last week. I saw his wife, and we’re supposed to talk sometime soon. It’ll be pretty nice to holla at coach.”
AS: When did you first find out that the Eagles had drafted Riley Cooper? Did you two have a good relationship at Florida?
CI: “Me and Coop was real cool – pretty good friends. I think we’ll be even better friends now – laughing. I was definitely excited because I know what kind of guy he is and what kind of ball player he is. Just having him as a teammate with you, a long way from home, helps out a ton. He actually had a great mini camp, too. A lot of people have been asking about him, and I tell them the same thing – the guy’s a ball player. I’m not surprised he came up and had a great mini camp. I’m pretty excited for what he has going on, too. Hopefully we just get back on the same track when we get back to training camp and get this thing rolling.
AS: Has Cooper been looking to you for advice about the city and team?
CI: “He definitely asked. Not just football stuff – places to live, simple stuff about being on the team, what to expect and all of that kind of stuff. I don’t know everything, but there’s a lot of stuff I might know that he might not be sure about. […] I have a lot of respect for Riley, what he does on and off the field. He’s just one of those great guys.”
AS: What kind of relationship did you have with Donovan McNabb? How do you feel about the change in quarterbacks?
CI: “I would say we had a pretty good relationship. Last summer, we had the opportunity to get the skill position guys that were playing out to Arizona because that is where he lives. In the summer, I was able to work out with him for about a week out there and built a little chemistry – nothing big, nothing major. He’s a great guy and a great quarterback. I don’t have any control over what goes on with the players, and I don’t get into it. But he’s a great guy and a great player, and I know he’s going to do some great things in Washington. Even the two quarterbacks we have now – they looked great in mini camp. It’s no secret – of course they can play – and they’re also great guys. I try not to get into it, because it’s not my place. I’m just trying to get my feet wet in this league, and I don’t even have the right to speak about guys who played their dues and stuff like that.
AS: A lot of people don’t know this, but you were born about 20 miles away from Gainesville in Hawthorne. What was it like growing up in such a small town?
CI: “It was cool. Everybody here, you had no choice – you know everybody. The town is small, and it’s a very tight-knit town but, at the same time, they were passionate about their sports here. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I still get asked, ‘So, you’re from Gainesville?’ ‘No, I’m from Hawthorne! It’s right outside of Gainesville.’ My town and everybody here always encouraged me. When I started playing and making plays, I felt like I was playing for my town. I knew I had a lot of kids and a lot of people back in Hawthorne wanting to see me be successful so bad, and I never really wanted to let them down. My family’s here, I always try to come back home and, when I’m out, I always see the people and talk to everybody. They always supported me. I love where I’m from. I love where I’m from. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
AS: Now tell us a little bit about The C.I. Foundation that you have started. Does it relate to you growing up in Hawthorne?
CI: “For the most part, growing up in a small town is hard to get things rolling. When we were coming up with what we were going to do [for charity], I was a little iffy because I wanted to get on the field before I start a foundation and start this kind of stuff. Then I talked to my mom, and she brought it to my attention. She said that what [I] did for Hawthorne High School and the town of Hawthorne and for the University of Florida – [I] can do this now. [She said that] even if I’m not playing professional football, what I did in college and this town and this area – a lot of people will back me up and still be behind what I am doing. We started last week, and we’re getting a lot of great feedback from everybody – everybody. I have a foundation page on Facebook, and we’ll have the official website up by the end of this week. The main target was the young kids. Me being a father and an uncle, kids need to be active and often don’t have the funds for a team or for transportation back and forth. I felt bad. It’s nothing big, and it’s nothing outrageous and it’s nothing I even want credit for…I just want to see people happy and able to have fun and stay out of trouble. When I was coming up, we really didn’t have too many people who came here to talk to us. I was blessed because I have a great, great family that supported me through my entire career. It’s sad to say, but a lot of kids around here don’t have that same family background like I do. It’s not their fault. I just want to be able to help out in any way possible and give everybody the opportunity to stay out of trouble and grow up and be comfortable in what they’re doing. That’s the main target – to try and help out with the small things and also like uniforms. Just being able to help out any way possible was the main target, and I think we’re going to get a lot of things accomplished, and I’m pretty excited about how the foundation is going.”
AS: Has the organization held any events yet or is there anything going on in the future?
CI: “July 24, we’re going to have a free camp at Hawthorne – the website will have all of the information. We’re going to have a free camp and have a ton of Gator players I played with who are in the NFL who are going to come down on that Saturday. Coach Meyer is going to come down and speak. It’s going to be exciting. I know a lot of people might come out and bring their kids just to see the players, and that’s fine. But the main focus is to get the kids active and have them meet [everyone]. It’s going to be a big-time success, I already know. I can hear the buzz – people are asking me every time I am at the grocery store or trying to get gas. It’s going to be really big-time, and I’m happy because half of these kids have never met any [players] besides me. Them being able to see other players, see coach Meyer come out, it’s going to be a fun day that Saturday.”
AS: What should fans and friends do if they want to contribute?
CI: “When the website is up, all of that information will be on there. Probably by the end of the week, we will have it where you can make donations right on the website.”
AS: Looking back on your Gators career…if you could only pick one…what one moment was the highlight for you?
CI: “Phew…um….our first National Championship against Ohio State. I had a great SEC Championship game before that…both of those games…were definitely big. It was my first time winning a championship, and I was feeling great. I had a great game and we won the game – which is the most important thing. It started something special right there. With the talent that our coaches are recruiting, we’re going to have a lot of great players come to the University of Florida for a long time. I know we’re going to be able to compete for a lot of SEC and National Championships.”
AS: If you had to give any advice to a player trying to decide whether to join Florida or go somewhere else – what would be your main pitch? What would you tell them?
CI: “I really think our coaches care about us more off the field than on the field. They did a great job getting guys finishing school, even guys who leave early come back to finish school. That’s the most important thing, because football won’t last forever. When you think about academics, we’re definitely one of the best. I know we’re definitely one of the best as far as graduating our football players. And you can’t even compete with our facilities and our SEC and National Championships that we have right now. It’s a given. When I went there the other day to speak with coach Meyer, I was looking around and a lot of stuff changed just since I was going there. The facilities are phenomenal. Great coaches. Great academics. You know you are going to compete for SEC and National Championships. You can’t turn that down. We’re definitely in the best conference out there right now, too.”
AS: While you still call Hawthorne and Gainesville home, the truth is that you are a Philadelphia guy right now. That being said, I have to put you on the spot: What is your cheesesteak of choice?
CI: “Oh man…you know what…I go to Geno’s a lot more than anything. I think it’s one of those things where I asked some of the players when I first got there what’s the best. I tried all of them – and they’re all actually pretty good – but if I had to choose, I would say Geno’s right now.”
OGGOA will keep you up-to-date with The C.I. Foundation and provide appropriate links to the website and donation pages when they are made available.