Ingram in stride: From 4 a.m. sled workouts to broken records
During a Texas summer day in 2016, Carthage High School Football Head Coach Scott Surratt drove with his wife past the school’s campus.
The weather was scorching hot — in triple digits to be exact — the norm that time of the year, especially at 1 p.m.
Surratt had made that drive many times, especially since he was now in his 14th season as head coach. But, this time, something different was happening.
As Surratt drove next to the school’s indoor facility, something caught the corner of his eye. It wasn’t an animal or a group of people but one of his best athletes hustling during a workout.
In the middle of 102 degree weather, senior running back Keaontay Ingram decided it was time to get some work done. He strapped himself up with weights and pushed them up and down a huge hill on the other side of the facility.
In awe, Surratt quickly had his wife pull out her phone and take a video of Ingram’s workout.
“He was strapped up pulling weights up that hill and then going down,” Surratt said. “And I said, ‘He’s gonna be special.’”
Family football and being a “workout junkie”
Ingram lived and breathed sports from an early age. At four years old, he was already playing football and baseball, thriving in little league games. He picked up basketball too, and was on his high school’s basketball and track teams.
But, as the years went on, football became his love.
The football didn’t leave his hands growing up, as well as the company of family. He grew up with nine siblings, many of whom were older than him, and lots of older cousins.
They pushed him in backyard football, unknowingly preparing Ingram for the future ahead. Ingram mentioned those many games were “just fun,” and considered normal for kids growing up in Texas, where football is a religion.
The impact of playing with older people, who didn’t go easy on him, was immense.
“When I got to be with my age group, I was a couple of steps ahead,” he said. “That molded me as far as how I think, just how I approach [the game]. I feel like I’m just more mature about everything.”
Ingram would play football anywhere at any time. Instead of watching the Friday night lights games, he and his family would play on the sideline. For Ingram, it was a way of imitating his dream.
He wanted to be playing in those big games one day.
“As he was growing up, he always had a football in his hand. He never let it go,” said Brandie Ingram, Keaontay’s mother. “He always was trying to do some type of training to make himself better [as a kid].”
Ingram calls himself a “workout junkie,” who has gotten used to working out alone and often.
His consistent work ethic began in a simple way. Ingram often suffered defeat when playing pee-wee football in the fourth and fifth grades.
“I think we only won like two games,” he said. “I really hate losing.”
Ingram’s motivation stemmed from this distaste for defeat and stuck with him over time. He became determined to improve, hating being considered “average.” Ingram began despising those who gained an advantage over him and improving in the offseason.
Ingram started building habits and a routine — something he’s followed to this day.
“There’s nothing wrong with doing something that makes you uncomfortable,” he said. “Just going each and every day, you try to make it like a lifestyle instead of trying to chase something.”
Rabid competitiveness and commitment have fueled Ingram’s dreams. He ran all those hills in high school simply because he wanted to get faster and “break records.”
Those records were eventually shattered during his time at Carthage, but it didn’t come easily.
Broken records and Texas football
“This is one I will never forget because I went into a panic as a parent,” Brandie said.
It was 4 a.m. when she woke up, deciding to check up on Keaontay. As she walked toward his room and opened the door, what she saw sent her into a frenzy — Keaontay wasn’t in his room.
She began screaming her son’s name while walking all around the house, hoping to hear something back, but Brandie didn’t hear Keaontay’s voice.
“I opened my door,” she said. “And I’m hollering [Keaontay at] 4 o’clock in the morning knowing I’m going to wake my neighbors up, but I didn’t care.”
The search continued as she exited the door. Brandie turned toward the side of her house and finally found Keaontay in his usual state — working out.
He was strapped with weights on a sled, pulling it outside the house at 4 a.m. Keaontay said this specific early-morning sled workout was a usual thing.
He was still in junior high school at the time, but Keaontay needed to get work done and built a routine that he’s stuck to since then.
“You put yourself on a routine … stick to that routine, I feel like it’ll be easier,” he said. “Just fall in love with the process, instead of the result. I try to live by that.”
The impact of those extreme workouts in odd environments is obvious when you see him run. Ingram’s hard, physical style makes him difficult to bring down.
Despite his success at the youth level, Ingram was still far from scoring touchdowns on Saturdays.
“What people don’t realize is after growing up, I was actually better at baseball and basketball than I was football,” he said. “Especially in high school. I was way better in basketball coming into high school.”
But, Ingram broke his ankle sophomore year while playing basketball. Coming off a strong sophomore season in football, he was put in a predicament.
It forced him to make a decision and “helped motivate [him] to figure out what [he] wanted to do.” After committing to football full-time, Ingram’s junior year turned into a memorable one.
Ingram ran for 2,244 yards on 320 carries and scored 32 touchdowns that season. Carthage ended up winning the state 4A Division I championship and Ingram was named the game’s Offensive MVP.
All his dreams were coming true. According to Ingram, these were things he always wanted to do and the pressure never really got to him.
Ingram always stays in the moment — controlling what he can control.
“If you still weeping on something that happened yesterday, then what are you doing?” he said. “Regardless [of] what’s thrown at me, I control what I [can] control and just live in a moment. Just have fun with it.”
The fun continued during his senior season.
Ingram increased his efficiency, broke the school’s career rushing touchdowns record, was named an All-American and selected as a finalist for the prestigious Mr. Texas award.
When it came time to make a decision for college, it was an easy one. Ingram was going to the University of Texas. He spoke it into existence when he showed up to career day in a full Texas football uniform as a preschooler.
He called the transition to college football “smooth,” but after three seasons he needed a change.
Becoming a Trojan
Injuries and strong competition hindered Ingram’s time at Texas. The NIL deals offered in Los Angeles and the opportunity to market himself as an athlete at USC became too good to pass up when Ingram was considering his options after deciding to transfer.
But that decision to leave his dream school brought the biggest adversity Ingram has faced as a player, Surrett said.
“[Ingram] knew he wanted to go somewhere else [to] make a name and play very well,” he said. “He just wants to play football. And that’s what he’s doing at USC.”
Ingram’s intensity was noticeable once he got on campus.
He told then Head Coach Clay Helton not to take it easy on him. He wanted to work for everything and that caught the attention of USC running backs coach Mike Jinks.
“He didn’t want any special treatment, he wanted to go out and earn his reps,” Jinks said. “It was the way in which he conducted himself that really allowed him to rise as a leader.”
Ingram’s career at USC began quietly. Helton created a 1A/1B running scheme with Ingram and redshirt senior Vavae Malepeai splitting carries, resulting in no games with over 100 yards rushing for Ingram the first month of the season.
Once October came around, he began looking more comfortable.
He had three 100- yard rushing games in four October appearances, including a career-high 204 rushing yards against Arizona.
The chemistry between him and the offensive line improved drastically. Ingram realized some of the line’s strengths and weaknesses too, allowing him to improvise sometimes in games.
Ingram’s sense of humor is an underrated aspect of his personality. He’s always cracking jokes and having fun in the locker room, according to redshirt senior center Brett Neilon.
“I play all day, that’s just who I am. I don’t ever want to be too serious about anything,” Ingram said. “Because I feel like that inner kid tends to leave people when they’re trying to grow up so fast. What you in a rush for?”
But, when it comes to his play, nothing about it is funny. When he gets on the field his mood changes.
“He was always joking around. But he was business too,” Surratt said. “He was on a mission.”
Ingram’s mission could conclude after this season. He’s eligible for the NFL Draft and a strong finish could increase his stock. Like every step in his sports journey though, Ingram is focused on the now.
“I got goals and ambitions, but I can’t get to them until these next three games are finished,” Ingram said. “After that, [we’re going] to look forward to coming back or maybe leaving, I don’t know yet.”
Knowing Ingram, whatever he decides to do next, someone will find him at an odd time, pulling a sled of weights.