CARTHAGE — There have been big names come through the halls of Carthage High School in recent years.

There were Ed Pope and Isaiah Golden, who went to Texas A&M. There was Kendall Thompson, a future Texas signee.

But there hasn’t been anything like Carthage senior running back Keaontay Ingram, who as one of the nation’s top recruits, has packed the Bulldogs’ field house with college coaches for more than a year.

“When you’re rated the No. 1 back in Texas, you’re gonna have tons of traffic,” said Carthage head coach Scott Surratt. “Whether the ratings are right or not, it’s Texas. Every college has called. If we told them he was open they were all down here.”

That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a high school kid.

“Most young men enjoy the process for a month or two and then it gets really old,” Surratt said. “We sat down and talked about the process, and he’s handled it unbelievably well just because he’s so level-headed.”

Keaontay Ingram is just built different.

As the Bulldogs star running back and University of Texas commit prepares for his final high school game Friday in the Class 4A Division I state championship, all Ingram can do is reflect on the journey.

“To go out on top in your senior year that’s pretty much all you can ask for,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of people tell us ‘enjoy it now while it’s still here.’ Winning a state championship would top it off and be extremely sweet.”

Carthage's Keaontay Ingram (28) dives into the end zone for a touchdown during the Bulldogs' 35-0 win over Henderson in their Class 4A Division I Region III final Dec. 8 in Nacogdoches. (©


Surratt knew. Before anyone else. Before Ingram.

“I asked him, ‘where do you wanna go to school if you could pick right now?,’” Surratt asked during Ingram’s sophomore year. “And he said the University of Texas, and I said, ‘keep improving and they’re gonna offer you.’ It kinda shocked him, he looked at me like, ‘you’re crazy.’ Because at that age they don’t know, but I knew.”

As a 10th-grader, Ingram battled through injuries but showed flashes of what was to come.

He was slowed by a hip pointer he said “hurt like hell,” and wasn’t 100 percent until the playoffs.

That’s when he opened everyone’s eyes.

Ingram rushed for 366 yards and five touchdowns in wins over previously unbeaten Stafford and Navasota.

The good times lasted only a short while longer. Ingram broke his ankle on the first series of the Bulldogs’ regional title game against Silsbee, and missed the rest of the year.

“That was just a trial that God put me through,” Ingram said. “I ain’t gonna ever complain and I try to keep from asking why.”

Surratt had plans for his budding superstar while in recovery.

“I said ‘our goal right now is you get bigger,’” Surratt said. “And then he got up to 217 within about six weeks. Some of it was not good weight, but we knew he could put it on real quickly and he got so strong. It may have been a positive in the long run.”

Ingram has since slimmed down to 190 pounds, but knows it won’t be hard to add it back once he gets to college.

“All things happen for a reason, and I’m thankful at the end of the day that it happened,” Ingram said.

Carthage RB Keaontay Ingram. (© Rob Graham,


Because of the injury, Ingram wasn’t able to participate in any offseason camps, so he was still relatively under the radar when his junior season began.

That didn’t last too long.

Ingram carried Carthage to its fifth state championship in nine years with more than 2,200 yards on the ground in 2016.

TCU was the first to offer in December, and once the season ended, the offers kept coming. And coming.

“Everything hit me at once,” Ingram said. “I wish I had people older than me tell me how the process was gonna be. But I learned a lot from the recruiting process. It gets very stressful, but at the end of the day it’s a good problem to have. A lot of kids wish that was happening to them.”

Ingram enjoyed most of the process. The interactions with some of the biggest names in coaching, the talks with current college football players, the campus visits.

But it wasn’t all fun.

“You got coaches out there that give you a lot of stuff you wanna hear, then you’ve got some that give you what you need to hear. I’m the type of guy where ‘tell me what I need to hear,’” Ingram said.

Texas wasn’t even on Ingram’s radar for a while.

“When I was a kid I was a Longhorn fan, I bled orange,” he said. “As the recruiting process came, the Texas Longhorns weren’t even in my top 10 or 15 at one point. But I eventually committed to them. It’s just the culture and what they’re bringing to the table, I see what most people don’t see.”

Ingram points to Texas’ 27-24 double-overtime loss to USC in September as a reason to be optimistic about the Longhorns’ future.

“At the USC game when we lost by three with a freshman quarterback and a young offense, and this is the first time we’ve been bowl-eligible in two or three years,” Ingram said. “That’s progress. Not everything is gonna be there in the blink of an eye, it takes time, it’s a process, especially in college football. To see everything clicking together and hearing from players’ mouths, too, and them liking what they’re bringing to the table.”

And one more thing.

“I feel like if I get a good degree there I’ll be set for life,” he added.

Carthage running back Keaontay Ingram is a big play threat every time he gets the ball.. (© Mark Martin,


Surratt has loved every minute he’s had coaching Ingram.

“It’s always been great to coach him, but it’s been fun to watch him mature as a young man,” he said. “You don’t outwork him. He’s very humble, and he’s got his eyes on the prize, and he’s got his head on right.

“He works like crazy in the weight room, he works on his speed in summer track. Not many people will dedicate themselves to run summer track after the track season just to get faster.”

The Carthage coach says Ingram has worked himself into a complete back, something that’s been disappearing from today’s game.

“He’s developed in all three phases of playing tailback, he’s the total package,” Surratt said. “He’s worked hard on his protection, he felt like that was a weakness at one point, and he’s really good in protection now. And he’s worked really, really hard as a receiver. That’s all he played last spring, we knew he could run the football obviously. We put him out at receiver, and he’s dynamic out there, too. He’s a three-down back, or four-down here because we go for it most of the time.”

Ingram has many players he tries to emulate. New school and old school.

“I watch Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott, but I also watch Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker,” he said. “I try to do everything they do, so when I step on the field, hopefully there are no weaknesses. If I don’t have a good game and I draw a lot of attention and that let’s one of my other teammates have a good game that means I’m doing my job. But I’m still learning.”

Carthage running back Keaontay Ingram rushes for yardage during the Bulldogs' 48-28 win at Gilmer on Sept. 23. (©


There’s something to be said for consistency, and Surratt never has to worry about Ingram.

“He’s a great leader,” Surratt said. “They know they can count on him. Just like (in the semifinals), we didn’t play a very good football game. We turned it over four or five times, and we said ‘we’re gonna live or die with you, we’re gonna put it in your belly the rest of the night.’ And he took over.”

Ingram already holds the Carthage school record for career rushing touchdowns with 73, and he’s one of just three backs with 5,000 career rushing yards.

He is 85 yards short of former Bulldogs back Kris Briggs (1995-98) for second place on the all-time list. He’d need 421 rushing yards Friday to break Tevin Pipkin's school record of 5,465.

Ingram enters this week with 2,164 yards and 34 touchdowns this season.

“This is really a bittersweet week, we know this is our last everything in high school,” Ingram said. “You don’t want it to end, but it is what it is.”

But it’s not like Ingram will leave the program altogether.

His younger brother, Kelvontay Dixon, is a 2020 prospect already with several scholarship offers.

“I’m gonna tell him the truth, I’m not gonna beat around the bush,” Ingram said. “Hopefully I’ll be a real good influence on him. But at the end of the day it’s his decision. I ain’t gonna force him to do anything, I’m gonna be behind him 100 percent. He’s the one that’s got to go there four years, not me. It’s gonna be a long process, but I hope he enjoys it and I hope he reacts to it well.”

If he’s anything like his older brother, he’ll be just fine.

-- Carthage historical info provided by Gabe Brooks,