2-sport star has UF visit

Hawthorne's Cornelius Ingram will choose between Florida and FSU.


Published: Saturday, January 17, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 17, 2004 at 12:13 a.m.

It is a short journey from Hawthorne to The Swamp, one Cornelius Ingram could almost make blindfolded by now. He's been here often, so many times, visiting with Ron Zook and Billy Donovan and gaining a first-hand feel for the Florida football and basketball programs.

When asked how many times he's been in Zook's and Donovan's offices the past two years, he can't come up with an exact figure. "A whole lot of times. I've lost count. I went by a couple of times just last week," Ingram said.

He's been around the UF athletic department so often the secretaries must assume he's a Gator athlete, even though he isn't (not yet).

Certainly, the two-sport high school star from Hawthorne is going to know his away around campus this weekend.

But this trip, this weekend excursion to the University of Florida, is going to feel much different, much more important, than all the others he's made.

This one is official.

"When you go there and it's unofficial, the coaches really can't do some things and say some things they want to say," Ingram said Friday. "When you're on an official visit, the coaches can relax and do their own thing. This one is official and it's pretty big. It's big time."

This Hawthorne-to-Gainesville trip could be the most important one he's ever made. It probably will help him decide his future for the next four or five years.

After his visit to Tallahassee last weekend, Ingram, one of the state's top quarterback prospects, will give Zook and the Gators a chance to sell themselves the next two days. By the end of the weekend, Ingram's long recruiting journey - which began when he was in the eighth grade - just might come to an end.

The way it stands now, it's Florida vs. Florida State all the way for the highly rated football/basketball player.

"Last week, going to Tallahassee, I had a really good time," he said. "The coaches showed me a lot, a lot, of love. I'm looking for the same thing at Florida. I'm really looking forward to it."

Ingram not only lives close to the University of Florida (about a 15-minute drive), he has a close relationship with Zook and Donovan.

He has known Donovan since he first attended UF basketball camp when he was in the eighth grade, and he credits Donovan with giving him the advice to stick with basketball and football and try playing both in college.

"Coach Donovan is the one who gave me the whole idea," Ingram said. "I thank him for that. He told me, `Maybe when you get in college you might eventually give up one and concentrate on the one you think you can be a professional in.' He said, `Whatever you do, keep doing both.' I've stuck with that, and it's paying off now."

Ingram has known Donovan longer than Zook, but he may be even closer to Zook. When asked to describe his relationship with Zook, Ingram breaks into a broad smile.

"He's the most exciting coach I've ever met," Ingram said. "One day I saw him in the mall, and I've never seen a coach like that in the mall. He was just walking around, talking to everybody. I ran into him and we had a chance to talk, and a lot of people gathered around us. He's kind of like me, he takes time out for everyone. That's hard to say about many coaches today. He has time for everybody."

Zook's office door has always been open for Ingram, who has visited him on a regular basis, often bringing teammates and classmates with him. It's been the same with Donovan over the years.

"I take some of my classmates with me because they want to meet a guy like Coach Zook or Coach Donovan," Ingram said. "It's a big thing for guys not playing any sports. They want to meet a big-time coach. I don't know if I've ever told them (Zook and Donovan) thanks, but my friends really appreciate it."

Being so close to Zook and Donovan, Ingram realizes it would be tough to say "no" to the Gators. But the same goes for the Seminoles, he said.

A difficult decision is looming.

"Everybody knows you can't go wrong with either one of those colleges," he said.

"I feel I won't make a bad decision whichever one I choose. It's difficult, but it's a decision I have to make and I have to stick with it for four years. I want to make sure I make the best decision."

Ingram admitted the Gators are getting a little inside help.

"My dad loves the Gators," Ingram said. "But he understands the fact that whatever I do, he's still going to support me. Living so close to the University of Florida I get egged about (going to Florida) all the time, especially by him."

NOTES:

As expected, incoming freshman defensive end Brandon Daniel has enrolled in classes at UF. The standout from Pompano Beach Ely graduated from high school early and will participate in spring drills, Zook announced Friday.

Daniel, a first-team All-State selection, recorded two sacks in the state title game in 2002 (which Ely won) and had 10.5 sacks and 80 tackles his senior season. As a junior, he had 50 tackles and 12 sacks.

He is the first UF freshman to enroll early since quarterback Brock

Berlin in 2000. The others to do it are quarterbacks Rex Grossman and Jesse Palmer and offensive lineman David Jorgensen.

In other news, the NCAA has granted defensive end Kenny Parker a sixth year of eligibility, meaning he will have two seasons remaining at UF.

He received a medical hardship because he missed two seasons with a back injury. So, for the second consecutive year, Parker will be listed as a junior.

You can reach Robbie Andreu by e-mail at andreur@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5022.

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