Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
METAIRIE, La. – Mark Ingram burst onto the national scene in full his sophomore season in Alabama’s curtain raiser against Virginia Tech, a game that foreshadowed the Crimson Tide’s blitzkrieg to the 2009 national title.
He rushed for 150 yards on 26 carries, tallying one score and notching his first of nine 100-yard games, including an epic 246-yard performance against South Carolina.
Now, two seasons later, he’s preparing for another first impression, this time as a New Orleans Saint in the NFL’s curtain raiser Thursday night at reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay.
“It’s prime time,” Ingram said Tuesday. “…Everybody is going to be watching. I know I’m really excited about it, looking forward to it. I’ve been working hard my whole entire life to wait for this moment. [sic] Just for my first NFL game to be on the national stage like this, I’m excited and really looking forward to it.”
But it’s his time at the Capstone that will help prepare for everything he’s about to face.
The SEC might be as close to the NFL as any collegiate experience can get and Ingram was an integral part of one of the most successful NCAA programs in history in a period of its resurrection.
Alabama went to two SEC championship games, one BCS bowl game and a national championship game on top of playing weekly in the nation’s toughest conference.
Ingram, in other words, won’t be overwhelmed by Thursday night.
“We played in plenty of big games at Alabama being the main event of the night, the national championship, bowl games, just being on TV throughout the regular season,” Ingram said. “The media and the crowd and all the hype, I think that kind of helped me a little bit, being at Alabama and playing so many big games.”
Saints coach Sean Payton joked with Ingram earlier in the week that in the NFL, there are no easy games to begin the year, telling the youngster, “I told him we’re not playing Kent State this weekend, we don’t get a couple warm ups.”
Payton, of course, was referring to Alabama’s season-opening game against the Golden Flashes, which the Crimson Tide won 48-7.
Regardless, the coach believes his first-round draft pick will be ready for the event.
“Here’s why, he’s been very consistent during training camp,” Payton said. “Coaches and players and all of us can talk about being ready, but really signs of being ready are the consistency and the number of snaps where you’ve performed at a high level and you’re ready for the assignment and you’re ready for whatever it is your job is going to be whether it’s running the football or in protection.”
That Ingram isn’t the sole focus of the Saints’ offense will help, the running back said.
“We have so many great players on offense, on defense, on our entire team that really the spotlight isn’t on one guy,” Ingram said. “I don’t have to feel like I have a lot of pressure on me or that all the spotlight is on me because I have so many teammates to lean on.”