Where are they Now: Ingram looks to deliver a championship to hometown

Dec 9, 2020 | 0 comments

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A native of nearby Hawthorne, Cornelius Ingram joined the Gators as a top-100 quarterback in the 2004 signing class. He served as the scout team quarterback during his redshirt season in 2004 before moving to tight end once Urban Meyer and Dan Mullen rolled into town. He contributed to UF’s 2006 national championship, catching 30 passes for 380 yards throughout the season. He was named Second Team All-SEC following his redshirt junior season in 2007.

He also played shooting guard for the Gators’ basketball team during the 2004-05 season and saw action in 19 games.

He had a promising future ahead of him as a tight end, as he was a candidate for the John Mackey Award in 2007. However, injuries derailed his career. A torn ACL forced him to miss his entire redshirt senior season in 2008, and, after being drafted in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Eagles, he tore his ACL again before ever playing in a game. He spent the next four years on practice squads before retiring in 2012.

He is currently the head coach at Hawthorne High School, his alma mater. The Hornets will face the Baker Gators for the Class 1A state championship on Dec. 17 in Tallahassee.

Ingram took some time to discuss his playing career, why his injuries turned out to be a blessing in disguise, what bringing a state championship back to his hometown would mean to him and more.

Coming out of high school, what schools did you consider, and why did you end up choosing Florida?

“I was recruited by almost everyone to play a few sports. I think the top schools I narrowed it down to was, of course, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, maybe Tennessee and South Florida.”

Why did you choose Florida?

“My dad was a diehard Gator fan. Whenever the college coaches would come into town or come by the house to visit, my dad would basically stay in the room most of the time. He really didn’t interact with a lot of the coaches, and, of course, with Coach [Ron] Zook, because Zook was the head football coach at the time, when Coach Zook or Billy Donovan showed up to my parents’ home, my dad would basically have a barbecue or a party because he was excited about the Florida Gators. So, I said to myself, ‘I have to go to the University of Florida, or my dad might disown me if I didn’t.’ That had a lot to do with it. And then, of course, being in the area and being familiar with the Florida Gators. I think they recruited me the longest. Of course, they recruited me longer than any other schools. It just felt right. I was comfortable with both coaching staffs on the football side and the basketball side.”

What are your thoughts on Ron Zook as a coach and as a person?

“Great, great dude. Awesome recruiter. It’s obvious what kind of talent we had on campus, winning the national championship with most of his recruits. So, he definitely did a great job recruiting. I thought he was a great coach as well. Just a players’ coach. Everyone around the program loved him. He did the best he could do while being there, but just a great guy, and I also think he’s a good coach as well.”

How did the move to tight end come about, and were you hesitant about it at first?

“I was. I left high school basically [as] an All-American quarterback. I was an Elite 11 quarterback. Once I got to the University of Florida, of course, Ron Zook and his staff wanted me to continue to play quarterback, but I redshirted where I could play on the basketball team, and just, fast-forward in time, once Coach [Urban] Meyer came in, they were still open with me playing quarterback. I was frustrated and thinking about transferring. I was definitely thinking about transferring where I could just start all over, and I can remember Coach Meyer and a couple other coaches coming to Hawthorne after our bowl game and sitting down and talking with myself and my older brother and just asked me if I ever thought about playing another position. I always knew I was a pretty good athlete. I felt like I could have success at another position. I just never had played another position. My dad was my Pop Warner coach, so I had been playing quarterback my whole life, so I was just used to it. But after the long conversation, I kind of basically said, ‘I’ll definitely give it a try.’ I was aware of I could be a mismatch once I played the tight end position. Of course, the ball would be coming to me some, and that happened. I think I flourished in Coach Mullen’s offense at that time, and I had a lot of success. My changing positions actually worked out for me. It was one of those things where I was able to adapt, and I was able to have success and, of course, winning national championships always help, winning SEC Championships and just being able to be out there on the field was probably the most important thing to me. I just really wanted to play.”

When you signed with Florida, they were still considered an elite program after all they had accomplished during the Steve Spurrier era. How disappointing was it to not perform at that level under Zook?

“I think everyone at the school, all the players who were recruited by Coach Zook kind of understood the high expectations going in. Does it necessarily always work out the way you want it to? Absolutely not, but I think we just kept grinding. Coach Zook had a job to do. The entire coaching staff had a job to do, and then, of course, as players, you also have to perform because there’s only so much coaches can do. So, yeah, it was a little frustrating, especially with it being the University of Florida and all the rich tradition we’ve had over years and years. So, you have to live up to those expectations. And yeah, it’s frustrating a little bit, but you’ve also got to understand what’s ahead, the former players who come before you, the coaches who come before you. So, it’s a very high standard, and I think right now, Coach Mullen knew that coming in. He was familiar with everything, and once we hired him as the head coach, he kind of came back and started where he left off, on a high note. He’s had some great recruiting classes, got some great coaches on staff right now, and that’s why we’ve had a lot of success recently.”

What was it like for you and your teammates when Zook got fired?

“I really wasn’t even a part of it because I redshirted my freshman year, so I was playing basketball. I was with the basketball team. Even when they fired Coach Zook, I want to say we were probably in like the NCAA Tournament, so I was with the basketball team. So, I never really witnessed the emotions of all of the players really saying whatever they wanted to say, feeling how they wanted to feel about the whole situation. It was difficult for me because Coach Zook had recruited me for a long time, and I felt like we had a great relationship. I can remember being in high school, I think he probably did something to his foot or his ankle, so he would be on my high school campus basically riding around on a golf cart. And that just said a lot about him where he could’ve easily said, ‘Hey, I might not be able to come out there and see you this week, but we’re still recruiting you. We still want you to come to UF. I won’t be able to make it because of my foot or ankle injury.’ He never did that. He showed up whenever the NCAA allowed him to, and he made me feel like he wanted me to play for him, and it was a great feeling. Like I said before, when he got fired, I was with the basketball team, so I never really witnessed anything from the football side.”

What was your initial impression of Urban Meyer, and what was your relationship with him like?

“He was a confident guy. You could tell he was very confident in the game of football. He wanted everyone to be confident. I can remember one thing. When he came in, he took some things away from us, and being at the University of Florida, you basically have to show up in the locker room, all of your stuff is washed, it’s in your locker ready to go. He made us wear our old workout equipment, our old workout gear. And we had to take it home or to our dorms and wash it ourselves every day. Just that little message, he made us want to be at the University of Florida a little bit more. He wanted us to work for these things that was given to us, no doubt, through the University of Florida, and I think it opened a lot of eyes when you did that. He came in with a great coaching staff, great strength and conditioning staff, and he had a plan. Coach Meyer really had a plan with what he wanted to do, where he wanted to put guys at certain positions and the way he recruited. And, of course, being a great recruiter and a great coach, you set yourself up for conference championships and national championships, and that’s what he was able to bring to the table.”


(Photo Credit: Cornelius Ingram)

What were your thoughts on Dan Mullen as offensive coordinator, and was there anything you saw that let you know that he was going to be a good head coach someday?

“Just the play-calling, putting guys in space, I think he did a great job with that. I think he really understood the personnel we had at the University of Florida, and he put us in those key positions to make plays. Being under a great head coach, I don’t want to say it makes you a great head coach when you get your opportunity, but, as of right now, we have a lot of coaches who were assistant coaches at the University of Florida at that time, they’re pretty good head coaches now. I know for a fact they have their own formula, they have their own offensive plays, defensive plays, but I could still probably guarantee you they’ve learned a lot from Coach Urban Meyer as well. So, we knew when Coach Mullen had his opportunity to be a head coach, he would have a lot of success, and I’m happy for all the success he’s having right now.”

Do you have any favorite Mullen stories?

“He was actually a really good basketball player whenever we would play basketball during mat drills. He had a really good jump shot. He’s a very confident guy as well. He challenged us every single day, whether it was practice, whether it was workouts. He’s one of those ultimate competitors, and you could tell. He wants to win if he’s shooting marbles. It would be jabs thrown here or there walking through the locker room or walking through the football facilities. Whether he’s saying, ‘I have a better jump shot than you,’ or ‘we can go and shoot three-pointers and see who makes the most.’ Not only him, but Coach Meyer was the same exact way. So, these guys, you’re talking about smart cats who understand the game of football, who know how to recruit, and then they’re ultimate competitors. I think it just trickled through the school. It trickled through the entire staff. Everyone at that time was walking around very confident, whether it was a coach, whether it was a trainer, and, of course, all of the players as well.”

You had a breakout junior season, and then you tore your ACL prior to your senior year. What was it like to go from being on top of the world to that down, that quickly?

“It was very tough. I could remember when I tore it, and then of course I ended up getting the MRI the very next day. And I was at the orthopedic center, Coach Meyer came in and broke the news to me. The doctors didn’t even want to tell me because I had put my name out in the draft my junior season and I came back for my senior season. So, I think a lot of the people, being a local guy coming out of high school, a lot of people in the area already knew me before I got to the University of Florida, so they knew I changed positions, they knew I was probably thinking about transferring and then I waited it out and then I started having success and I tear my ACL. So, it was a very difficult moment for me, but this is how special my teammates were at that time, the entire coaching staff. All of my teammates basically came by my apartment the day after I found out I tore my ACL. They brought me food, they decided to talk with me forever. And once I started my rehab on campus, every single coach would come into that training room and say something encouraging every day I was rehabbing, every single day. And they made me feel like I was still a part of the team, and I know for a fact that’s what put me over the top emotionally. I really wasn’t thinking about it anymore because I felt like these guys still treat me as family, and, once I went through my rehab, a lot of the fans didn’t know how far along I was. I can remember my Senior Day. I walked out on my crutches, and I put them down, and I jogged from the back of the end zone all the way to the 50-yard line to hug Coach Meyer, and it was probably one of the loudest times I ever had heard the Swamp. It was a priceless moment for me. I really needed it because I had never even had a jammed finger before. So, tearing the ACL, knowing you’re about to sit out an entire year from football, it was pretty tough, but just the support from the Gator Nation, whether it was letters, it was emails, it was people reaching out to me or saying something encouraging every time they saw me, it helped me get through it. Absolutely.”

What was it like to be drafted?

“It was a great feeling. As a kid, all you think about is playing in the NFL, having that opportunity to play in the league. So, it was a great moment, one of the highlight moments of my life. I was still kind of upset. I thought I would go earlier than I did, and injuries allow you to drop sometimes in the draft. And I knew that’s exactly what it was. I still was confident because I felt healthy, and I felt like I really didn’t miss a beat as far as getting back to my normal self, but teams have to be cautious when they draft players who are coming off serious injuries. Even though I was upset and I thought I should go a lot higher, earlier than I did, it was still a dream come true because I know kids right now, I know players right now, they dream about being drafted into the NFL and never even get the opportunity. So, I was still grateful and blessed to have my opportunity and my dream come true.”

You injured your knee again in training camp that offseason. What was that time like in your life when you just couldn’t stay healthy?

“It was tough. It was tough, and I’m coming off of a great minicamp, I’m talked about all over Philadelphia on the internet, and I can remember going out to Arizona to work out with some of the other skill guys with Donovan McNabb, and it was a great workout for about a week, and I was feeling really good about myself. I know the team was high on me. A lot of people were saying, ‘He’ll be the surprise of the draft once he gets to play,’ and I retear the same ACL after I’m having some success in minicamps, training camp, everything. It was devastating, but I will tell you this. I had a cadaver done with my first injury. But my second injury, I used my patellar, and Dr. James Andrews, he did my surgery. So, once he did that surgery, he allowed me to understand how important it was that my injury happened. Because the graft had started to fail. The graft had started to rot. It was just about to rot in my leg, so my second injury was truly a blessing, and I love football no doubt, but having that second injury made me realize how important life was. It made me understand that it’s deeper than football. I had a second chance at life, and if the graft would’ve completely rotted, I could’ve had my leg amputated, or it could’ve got in my blood stream and I could’ve died from it. So, that’s one of the things I always try to tell people about having a second chance and taking advantage of it. So, it was definitely tough, but I was able to get through it.”

How did you get into coaching, and what was your path to becoming the head coach at your alma mater?

“Our former AD kind of came to me about it, and I wasn’t even thinking about coaching at the time, to be honest, and our football program was really bad, our numbers were really low. I just had that passion not only for the game of football but these kids that are in my community. I know every last one of these kids that I coach, not only now but my first year of coaching. So, I knew I would be able to connect with them, and, in coaching, you have to connect with these kids outside of football. So, I was able to get on their level, really understand these kids, what they might be going through at home, what they might be going through in the classroom. So, they knew I really cared, and I knew once they felt that my love and passion for them was genuine, I think they gave me everything they had on the football field, and that was the easy part. Being from here, I really love every single moment I have to be around these kids that I really, really admire. It’s priceless. I have a dream job.”

What would winning the state championship mean to you?

“It’s huge. It would be a huge moment not only for our football players but our community as well. I had the opportunity to tell somebody this recently. 2020 has been pretty tough for a lot of people, but for Hornets fans, for the town of Hawthorne, 2020 has blessed us. I’m also the girls’ head basketball coach, so I just won a state championship for the first time in school history this past basketball season, I think right in February or March. And then our boys won state in basketball as well, and the head boys’ coach is my older brother, and then he’s also my offensive coordinator on the football field. So, it would be huge. This is our first time ever going to the state championship in school history. It’s just something that these kids really deserve. They work hard, they sacrifice a lot as players. Our coaching staff sacrifices a lot. This would probably be the highlight moment of my life, and I won national championships. But to be from a town where a lot of these kids get counted out, we have limited resources, we don’t have a lot of things we really need that some of these other schools have. And for us to have the success that we do have, we’re talking about a school where maybe under 300 kids, and that’s middle school through high school. So, I can’t say, ‘Hey, we’ve got football practice starting on this day,’ and 60 or 70 guys show up. No, I have to go in the hallways and kind of pull some of these guys to come play football. So, to have the success that we’re having with some of the obstacles that we kind of go through or have to face, it’s second to none. So, that’s why I’m so happy and passionate about being from here because we do a lot with limited everything, limited resources and everything. So, this is definitely huge for our community and our school.”


(Photo Credit: Cornelius Ingram)

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Gators program?

“We’re right where we need to be. [Mullen’s] still getting all of his recruits in, and we’re able to be mentioned as a top-5 school in the entire country and playing in the SEC Championship. So, I think we’re at a great place right now. I think he’s ahead of schedule, to be honest, as far as success and what this team did. We’ll continue to grow and get better, but we’re at a great place right now. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but I know a lot of people would trade to have our head coach, they would trade to have some of these players that we have here, and they would trade to have some of these assistant coaches that we have on staff. So, this program is definitely headed in the right direction, and we’ll only get better. I know that for a fact. Playing for Coach Mullen; playing for Coach [Billy] Gonzales, who’s the wide receiver coach; Coach [John] Hevesy, these guys get after it every day. And if you show up on campus there, you’re going to get their best, and that’s in practice every single day, that’s in film study, and I think that’s why a lot of these kids are having success on game day.”

What are your thoughts on Kyle Pitts?

“Ah, man. We haven’t seen anything like this in college football, let’s be honest. Humble kid, absolutely great ballplayer. Coach Mullen, he’s moving him around everywhere. So, even when he doesn’t get the ball, he’s getting other players open. He’s giving other guys great looks because you have to account for him wherever he lines up with maybe two or three people at a time. You have to account for him. He’s a special talent. He’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime type players, and I’m just a fan from afar because he’s able to do so much on the football field to put us in position to win games, and Coach [Mullen], they’re doing a great job with moving him around, and we’re able to get the ball to a lot of guys, and we have a lot of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. That tells you what Coach Mullen brings to the table, the tight end coach, what they’re bringing to the table because we also saw, when [Pitts] was out, these other tight ends come in and have success. So, that’s what kind of offense we’re running, and if you’re a high school kid, who doesn’t want to play at the University of Florida right now? You’ve got to be out your mind if you don’t want to play at the University of Florida for a great coaching staff, a wide-open offense and great facilities, great academics. We’ll continue to get better. This is just the beginning. Let’s be for real. This is just the beginning. It’ll be some special years from here right now and later on in the future as well.”

What does your future hold? Do you have aspirations to coach in college someday?

“Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I know my opportunity will come. I’ve been offered a lot of other head coaching jobs, some small college positions, but I wanted to continue to build my high school. I wanted to continue to make this one of the best programs in the state of Florida, all classifications. Same way with my girls’ program. I want them to be one of the most respected girls’ basketball programs in the entire state, and I think we’re right there with both sports right now. We’re right there with both sports, and, of course, our boys’ basketball program had been carrying our school. They had been carrying our school for the longest. We wanted to take the pressure off the basketball program because we’re always a Final Four team; we’re always one of the top teams in the state of Florida in boys’ basketball. So, I wanted to do the same thing with girls’ basketball. I want to do the same thing with football, and just, like three or four years ago, our school was on the verge of shutting down because we were a D letter grade. We were a D letter grade; the state was thinking about closing our school. Our kids would’ve had to bus over to Gainesville to go to school, which would’ve been hard for a lot of them. I just think about it, and I kind of get emotional because we’re almost a B school now. Our academics is one of the best and will continue to get better. Our athletics programs are one of the best and will continue to get better. And this is just three years being removed off this list where we were on the verge of being shut down. I just really feel like God is blessing the town of Hawthorne, not only in athletics but academics as well and then just as a whole community. So, this is a special place for me. I want to continue to coach here, no doubt, but I know that the timing has to be right with everything. If something came up, I don’t want to say I’d rule it out or I won’t leave, but the timing has to be right for everything, and I feel like I still have more work to do here at Hawthorne right now.”


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