All in the Family: Carthage’s Ingrams Experience High School Football Together
CARTHAGE – Somewhere in Texas, there is a group of kids plotting their football dreams.
They’ve spent all day playing football in their backyard, the characters in their own fantasy. They’ll get to high school and play on Friday nights. They’ll become adored figures in their school and community. They’ll win state championships and then prepare to do it all again in college.
For most kids, the dream ends in the backyard. Walk into a practice at Carthage High School and you’ll discover a quintet of kids for whom the dream is still alive.
Meet the Ingrams. You’ve probably heard of Keaontay Ingram, the top running back destined to become a Texas Longhorn next season. His cousin, Dewaylon Ingram, has accepted a scholarship to play receiver at Sam Houston State. What about Darrian Ingram? He is a defensive starter for the Bulldogs with 46 tackles and four for loss this season.
Rayvon Ingram is just a sophomore in his first full year on varsity, but has seen playing time both on offense and defense this season. Then there’s Kelvontay Dixon, the brother of Keaontay Ingram. He began the season as a starting safety and backup running back before suffering an ankle injury in the third game.
They represent hope for the backyard dreamers.
They grew up in the way most kids do in East Texas. They ran outside barefoot. Whenever they weren’t playing football, they were shooting at rabbits with their BB guns.
“We’ve killed and caught so many, you lose track,” Keaontay said.
Most of the time, though, they were playing football. The older kids prepared the younger two for the road ahead. With family members, there was no holding back. The tackles were full-strength and left marks.
“It made me tougher,” Rayvon Ingram said. “They always go hard. They talk trash, hit us hard.”
It was all in good fun. When they reached middle school, they began to map their future success. Multiple touchdowns, multiple championships and Texas high school football glory.
“It’s been a dream,” Dewaylon Ingram said. "We used to talk about it and then we did it. It made it even better.”
They never doubted it would happen.
The Bulldogs won the state championship in 2016, meaning their dreams were no longer that. The experience of playing in AT&T Stadium was daunting, but they pulled out a 31-17 victory against Abilene Wylie.
“I knew there was gonna be a lot of people, but I didn’t know it was gonna be like that,” Keaontay Ingram said. “You’ve got people way up in the top that look like looked like little ants. The experience there was fun, but you got a little nervous, too. There’s a lot of eyes on you just watching your every move. You don’t really wanna take a play off because everybody is watching somebody. I feel like our team experiences something like that and got a taste of that and they want to do it again.”
Carthage is on the path to another state championship this season. The Bulldogs haven’t lost a game yet and are already in the regional semifinals, where they will face Silisbee at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Lufkin.
The Ingrams might have achieved a goal last year, but the dream isn’t over yet.
The Ingrams aren't the first to play sports in their family tree.
Rickey Ingram was a member of the 2009 and 2010 Carthage teams that won state championships. He played safety. Dewaylon Ingram's brother, Ja'Marcus Ingram, grew up in Dallas. He attended South Oak Cliff in high school and is a redshirt freshman at Utah State.
Brandie Ingram, the mother of Keaontay Ingram and Dixon, played basketball in Carthage and then at Ranger College for two seasons. She is an assistant coach with the girls basketball team at Carthage now.
The list goes on. Keaontay Ingram's father was a good football player, too, he said.
None of the other Ingrams got the chance to play with this many family members. That's what separates this group from the rest.
"To have that and be playing with each other, that’s gonna be memorable moments when we sit back 20 years down the road,” Keaontay Ingram said.
Keaontay Ingram and Dixon are the closest in relation, being half brothers. The rest are cousins of varying degrees. They've played together since they were small, playing Pop Warner and community league sports.
"They know each other," Brandie Ingram said. "When you get to know your teammates and who you’re playing with and what they can and can’t do and you’re pushing each other to be successful each and every day, that has a lot to do with (the success).”
Darrian Ingram moved into a starting role during the first round of the playoffs last year. He said making his first start in a playoff game was nerve-wracking, but he relished the opportunity to be on the field for the state championship victory with his family.
“I had that fight in me every play," he said. "I had to prove something to my coaches and to my teammates.”
Scott Surratt has been the coach at Carthage since 2007 and has seen plenty of Ingrams come through the program since then. He knows better than anybody the impact the family has had on the program. It goes beyond just athletic ability to establish a culture, he said.
"The Ingrams are gonna have fun, but you know they’ll work their butts off every day," he said. "They’ve gotten better. A lot of times, people level out, especially when they’re seniors. They think they got it figured out. Not these guys.”
That work ethic starts with Keaontay Ingram. The Monday after the Bulldogs won the championship last season, he was back to work, formulating a plan for 2017. He watched videos of Dwight Smith, who holds the record for most rushing yards in a single season by a Carthage player.
He also runs track when it isn't football season. He said he is constantly working on his speed, naming Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill as an inspiration.
He adds more to the family legacy in that he is one of the most successful players in Carthage history. He is the Bulldogs' career touchdown leader with 67 to date and ranks third in career yardage with 4,573 career rushing.
He needs 308 yards to become the second player in school history to finish with two 2,000-yard rushing seasons.*
Although each Carthage player must hold a target in that they are defending state champions, Keaontay Ingram said he holds another as a top recruit.
“I carry a lot of weight," he said. "You gotta go out there and prove yourself every single night. It has its perks, but sometimes it’s not fun when everybody is targeting you and trying to stop you and people expect you to do with same thing while everybody is trying to target you. It’s a lot of pressure that comes with it. They’re tied in to their own opinion. The only thing for people like me to do is go out there and compete and show them why you’re a No. 1 recruit.”
The Ingrams are a big part of the reason why the Bulldogs have a chance to repeat as state champions, but they're not the only reason.
Dewaylon Ingram has 887 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns, but Dee Bowens leads the team with 947 and 16.
Keaontay Ingram has rushed for 28 touchdowns, but the defense has also been stout, led by Jacorey Ware, Mekhi Colbert and Mykel Gates.
This Carthage team is talented in many areas and will be a tough out.
“(We) just (have to) keep practicing hard and play with a chip on our shoulder," Dewaylon Ingram said. "We know everybody wants to beat us.”
Darrian, Keaontay and Dewaylon will all graduate after this season, but the Ingram legacy won't fade away. Rayvon and Dixon will be juniors, ready to make their own impacts. Surratt said when all is said and done, Dixon has the chance to pick up where his brother left off.
"He’s gonna be a special, special player," he said. "He may be the fastest one of all of them before it’s all over. What a great kid. I’m so sad for him that he only got to play two games.”
For now, the four Ingrams and their teammates have their sights set on even bigger rings. It all seems so surreal, that of all the kids pretending in their yards they would be the ones to live their fantasy. Most kids don't have the drive or if they do they lack the talent. The Ingrams are a lucky group to possess both.
If their season were to end on Friday, it would be a fun ride, but this Carthage team and the Ingram's legacy would likely only be a good team that won a state title one season. Nothing truly dominant, like the Carthage teams that took three state titles from 2008-10.
If, however, they can win again in AT&T Stadium, they enter a new class: back-to-back champions. It's something Keaontay Ingram has been thinking about plenty.
"Hopefully, if we don’t make it, we know we gave 110 percent and that team was fundamentally better than us and more gifted than us," he said. "I feel like 10 years from now, some teams won’t be remembered.
"We want to be remembered.”
*-Stats courtesy of Gabe Brooks, 247 Sports.