Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS ― For much of the past two years, Mark Ingram has been a fairly visible individual thanks to his talent.
In one fall and winter, he led Alabama, a football program with deep history and national significance, to its first national title since 1992 while also earning the school’s first Heisman Trophy.
A little more than a year later, Ingram saw his name go off the board in the first round of the NFL Draft, heading to New Orleans, who moved up to take the running back.
But it’s what the rookie running back is doing with his platform that makes him stand apart.
Ingram launched his Mark Ingram Foundation on Friday with a “Welcome to New Orleans” luncheon at the Oceana Grill, where 80 people helped give the Saints’ young rookie a firm base on where he can help out.
“The foundation is something that’s real important to me,” Ingram said in between interviews and handshakes. “It’s something I’m living, something I’m going through, something my sisters and I have experienced off and on throughout our lives.”
Few rookies have the name recognition and ability to start a foundation so early in their careers. But thanks to his Heisman Trophy season, he's a house-hold name in the Southeast.
Specifically, Ingram’s goal is to provide stability and lessons for those children whose parents, either one or both, end up in jail.
“It had its difficulties and its rough times,” Ingram said. “But that’s why I’m here. I want to make the transition easier for the youth that had the same circumstances I had.”
Ingram knows what that’s like.
His father, former New York Giants receiver Mark Ingram Sr., was sentenced to 92 months in prison on bank-fraud and money-laundering charges. He’s currently being held on charges of failure to surrender when he didn’t show up to a federal prison in Ashland, Ky.
Ingram Sr. wasn’t New York City to see his son awarded the Heisman Trophy. He wasn’t in Pasadena, Calif., to watch Ingram help the Crimson Tide win the 2009 BCS Championship.
And he wasn’t in Orlando, Fla., in January to watch his son play his final collegiate game for Alabama.
Ingram Jr. wants children without parental guidance to know that they can have success despite the hand they’ve been dealt.
He uses himself as the example.
“There are so many negative statistics that come along with children or youth (who) have a parent or two parents that are incarcerated,” Ingram said. “Just for me to get this foundation going, it’s real important to me. It’s something I want to be involved with the children all the time because it’s something I’m going through.”
He continued, “I just want to let them know that although you have a parent who is gone or he or she is incarcerated, you can still be whatever you want to be, do whatever you want to do. You just have to put your mind to it.”
Ingram’s first shot at directing the youth of New Orleans will come Sunday when he teams up with the Audubon Zoo to host 100 children for activities and a tour.
That the kick-off event was at Oceana was a no-brainer for owner Moe Bader. His restaurant has a history with the Saints, including hosting WWL Radio broadcasts from the French Quarter establishment.
“Mark just moved to the city,” Bader said, “and he’s already giving back to the city. He’s following Drew Brees’ footsteps as far as giving back.”
Friday, though, it was all about introducing himself.
After giving a short speech to those at the luncheon, a patron shouted “Who Dat!”
Without missing a beat, Ingram smiled and shouted “Who Dat!” right back.