AUBURN — Bobby Ingalls was a starting tackle at Lambuth University two years ago, enjoying life in western Tennessee and hoping against hope that NAIA excellence might one day yield a shot in the NFL.
Yet bad things were brewing at Lambuth, where whispers about financial problems became far more ominous when administrators acknowledged the issues. That was all Ingalls needed to hear.
Within weeks, his game tape was sent to schools throughout the Southeast.
“They were really excited,” said Ingalls, a 2007 graduate of Gardendale High. “(They) asked me if I wanted to walk on here. I was able to find a way to keep playing.”
Ingalls, who stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 320 pounds, was placed on the scout team immediately upon arrival last fall. His consistent work in practice helped Ingalls build a reputation with assistant coach Jeff Grimes, who has carved out a niche for the small-school refugee.
Ingalls is now a de facto tight end.
The senior participated in several snaps during Auburn’s 17-6 win against Florida last weekend. The season-ending injury to guard Jared Cooper forced Blake Burgess, who had been playing the specialized tight end role, back to his usual spot as a center-guard utility man.
Grimes picked Ingalls as the replacement.
His role is specialized. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn occasionally loads the strong side with two tackles — mostly out of Wildcat formations — and he prefers to use an auxiliary lineman to play outside the weak-side guard.
It helps prevent weak-side ends from wrecking the play.
The role may be a low-profile endeavor, but Ingalls isn’t about to complain. He managed to turn one of the most jarring moments of his life into memories that will last a lifetime.
“I’ve never been so excited in my life — that I got a chance to play at this level,” Ingalls said. “The entire week, I knew that I was going to get my chance to get some playing time. I’d been preparing all week.”
Ingalls’ real job is playing behind Brandon Mosley, who starts at right tackle. Both players are seniors. There is no future there beyond this season.
Ingalls will play there if needed, of course, but he already has overachieved. The Tigers’ other linemen are unified in their desire to see good things happen to Ingalls, whose work in practice has drawn raves from all corners of the field.
“It’s good seeing Bobby get a chance to get out there. He’s been through a lot and stuff, so it’s just good for him,” guard Chad Slade said. “He’ll do (well) at whatever job they put him at. I know he’s real tough. He’s getting better every day.”
Ingalls’ decision to leave Lambuth was prescient. The school lost accreditation and elected to close its doors following the spring 2011 semester. The University of Memphis bought the school last summer and re-opened it, but all athletic programs were discontinued.
Opportunities on the biggest stage now await Ingalls.
He’s hoping they continue coming his way.
“I work hard, but (it’s) up to the coaches,” Ingalls said. “I’m just going to continue to work hard. I’m not going to worry. I’m just going to do my best and see what happens.”