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Former UF football champion eyes third state title as coach of Hawthorne girls basketball

Cornelius Ingram is looking to add more trophies to his collection.

Winning the national championship in 2006 as the starting tight end for the University of Florida football team was a nice beginning. But now, Ingram rakes in high school state championships as the coach for the varsity Hawthorne girls basketball and football teams.

If they continue to qualify, Ingram has his sights on winning his third title with the girls basketball team on March 2. Having won it in 2020 and then again in 2023, this would be the first time in the program's history to win states back-to-back. But Ingram seems to know the secret to achieving consecutive state titles, having done it with Hawthorne’s football team just this year.

The 38-year-old Hawthorne native played football at Hawthorne High School, and in 2014, signed with UF where he went on to play for four years. He was then drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009. After a four year career in the National Football League, Ingram returned to his local high school to coach the girls basketball and football teams. He also teaches physical education.

“Seeing so many familiar faces supporting me and coming up to me after the games is special,” Ingram said. “I love coaching these girls every day.”

#23 Jhalea Jackson looks for an open teammate under the basket. (Jesse Bratman/WUFT News)
#23 Jhalea Jackson looks for an open teammate under the basket. (Jesse Bratman/WUFT News)

Despite his love for sports, Ingram did not think of pursuing a career in coaching after his stint in the NFL. In 2015, the former Hawthorne principal, Libby Hartwell, asked if Ingram would come home and coach the football team. There was a “dark cloud” over Hawthorne at the time. Ingram hoped he could bring some light by accepting the job.

“Our school was struggling academically and the school was about to be shut down by the state,” Ingram explained.

Ingram took over as the girls varsity basketball head coach in 2017. His impact was nearly immediate. In 2020, he led his team to a 29-2 record and state championship. He credits the success with his girls to his football background.

“I use the love and passion I had as a player in my coaching,” Ingram said. “I am an intense guy who coaches football. I really don’t change anything with girls basketball.”

After winning his second straight football state championship last year, Ingram took his first break in his nine-year coaching career. While he was away, his girls basketball team lost three games in a row. Ingram said he had to resist returning to the gym, but knew he needed the rest.

#0 De’Mya Adams chases after a loose ball. (Jesse Bratman/WUFT News)
#0 De’Mya Adams chases after a loose ball. (Jesse Bratman/WUFT News)

“The losing streak was heartbreaking,” said Jennifer Gillins, a 38-year-old medical support assistant and the mother of starting junior center Jhalea Jackson. “We knew we needed to come together, and I had complete trust in coach Ingram to get us to where we needed to be.”

At the start of the 2023 winter break, he returned with a focus to get the team back on track.

“I think the losses made us better,” Ingram said. “We knew we would be playing the teams we lost to again, and we were confident the outcome would be different.”

After the losing streak, the girls have been nothing but dominant. They have won 17 games in a row going into the state championships. Their most recent win was in the District 6 1A regional finals against Madison County, where they won 55-42.

Shantel Davis, a 44-year-old preschool teacher and mother of starting junior point guard De’Mya Adams, said she is amazed how a group of seven girls can beat a team twice their size. She believes the team wins because of coach Ingram’s tough nature.

“He would do anything for these girls off the court, but once he touches that sideline, he is a different character,” Davis said. “The friendship is out the window and he is all business.”

Adams and Jackson are the leaders of this team. Adams averaged 16.2 points per game and Jackson averaged 10.9 rebounds per game this season. Davis describes them as “Kobe and Shaq.”

#23 Jhalea Jackson dribbles through the Madison County defense. (Jesse Bratman/WUFT News)
#23 Jhalea Jackson dribbles through the Madison County defense. (Jesse Bratman/WUFT News)

Adams and Jackson played together from the 5th grade until they had to go to different high schools. While Jackson went to Hawthorne, Adams attended East Side 15 minutes away. After seeing her friend win a state championship with Hawthorne, she asked her mom if she could transfer and play for the Hornets for her junior and senior years. Coach Ingram was also onboard and actively tried to recruit Adams.

“At first I was very hesitant. I am not from Gainesville and didn’t even consider Hawthorne as a school for De’Mya,” Davis said. “I made a deal with Coach Ingram that if she kept her grades up, I would maneuver my schedule and get her to school every day.”

Although the team’s roster is small, coach Ingram and his girls have made a large impact on Hawthorne residents.

“Coach Ingram means a lot to Hawthorne – period,” Gillins said. “It’s exciting when someone comes back and all the girls really look up to him. Hopefully when my girls grow up they come back to Hawthorne.”

Jimmy Davis, Adams’ grandfather and retired Hawthorne High School bus driver, says Ingram has brought a winning culture to his hometown. He drove Ingram to his football games during his 18-year career. Now, he watches his granddaughter play for him. Jokingly, Davis says he can’t get rid of Ingram.

“I am so proud of this team,” Davis said. “They are like a bunch of nails. They are just tough.”

#2 Alicia Coleman of Hawthorne prepares for the jump ball against #1 Janiyah Mcknight of Madison County. (Jesse Bratman/WUFT News)
#2 Alicia Coleman of Hawthorne prepares for the jump ball against #1 Janiyah Mcknight of Madison County. (Jesse Bratman/WUFT News)

The team has faced adversity all year, and the regional final was no exception. Adams started the game by missing her first six three-point shots while the Madison County defense forced turnovers and missed shots. Despite their offensive struggles in the first half, the Hornets went into the second half with new life and outscored Madison County by 13 points. Adams finished the game with a game-high 20 points.

“Even the three-pointers we did not make, there was an extra pass and it was a great look,” Ingram said. “Whether we are up 10 or down 10, we figure out a way to win.”

The regional final was bittersweet, as juniors like Jackson are going to miss all of the seniors, who will play their last games in Lakeland for the state championships. Jackson said the team “is a family,” and she does not want to see it break up. The team plays Wildwood High School in the state semifinal on March 1 and if they win, will progress to the championship game on March 2.

Ingram says he believes the team has not reached their peak level of performance.

“The job is not finished,” Adams said.

Jesse is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing