Amidst a sea of reporters, Tyson Gentry spoke Thursday afternoon at the
renovated locker room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Sitting in a wheelchair with his mother, father and sister by his side and head coach Jim Tressel nearby, the 21-year old Sandusky native shared for the first time his thoughts, feelings, emotions and future plans since a serious neck injury that has given him paralysis back in spring football practice at Ohio State in mid April.
The walk-on punter from Perkins High School suffered what's described as a fracture to the C4 vertebrae causing doctors to fuse the C3 and C5 vertebrae together. He currently has movement in his arms and some of his upper body.
Through intense physical therapy, Gentry hopes to accomplish one thing.
"I definitely have the goal of walking again," he said. "It's something I really would like to do."
Although Gentry might not be walking, he's already taking small steps.
He's in the process of moving into his own apartment on campus along with his sister. With help and support from his friends, family, teammates, coaches, teammates as well as fans, the transition has been going smoothly seen being released recently from the OSU medical center.
The outpouring of support from everyone has helped the spirits of the Gentry family. Through approval of Ohio State and the NCAA, a trust fund has been set up at National City Bank for anyone wishing to make donations to Gentry's recovery.
"It's been an amazing outpouring of support," said Gentry's father Bob, who played for the Buckeyes in the early 1970's under Woody Hayes.
Every day Gentry was hospitalized, he said he received letters and cards from Buckeye fans praying and wishing for his support, visits from teammates and encouragement from friends.
The letters haven't stopped.
"I can't say that I'm surprised," he says of the support. "Just because the Buckeye family is so large."
"At the very beginning, we got hundreds (of cards and letters) a day," Gentry added. "Even now we still get a lot."
Teammates such as Gentry's friend Ryan Pretorious have been there for Gentry throughout the process.
"The teammates have been wonderful," Tressel said. "Obviously just like anyone else, he had certain guys he hung around with and they've been out of this world. I'm not sure Ryan Pretorious ever missed a day seeing him. Maybe he hasn't missed a day."
It's not just his teammates and the rest of the Ohio State community showing support throughout this ordeal.
Among the biggest supporters for the Gentry family has been Adam Taliaferro, the injured Penn State cornerback who ironically, injured a spinal cord when the Nittany Lions were playing in Columbus against Ohio State on September 23, 2000.
"There may be an emphasis on Tyson the week we play Penn State because I think Adam and his father Andre are hoping to be here (for the game)," Tressel explained. "They have been wonderful with the Gentry family."
Tressel especially noted that this injury has brought out the best in fellow coaches and players.
He said it's already a tight-knit group but this injury has shown the human side of many of the great people in the coaching fraternity. Tressel said like the Gentry family, he has had the pleasure of speaking with several people that are familiar with this kind of tragedy, and have reached out to express their support and offer their wisdom.
"There's an interesting fraternity that have dealt with this adversity," Tressel said. "Obviously Penn State and their family have lived through it, and they know when there's a time of need. The Taliaferro family and I've talked to Coach (Joe) Paterno a number of times as he's been through it.
"I remember getting a call from Cornell University basketball staff because they've been through it this year," he added. "For six weeks all their player did was that he was able to drink through a straw – no other movement whatsoever. Then 16 or 17 weeks later, he was up standing and making some progress and they called and talked to the family. That student athlete talked to Tyson."
Another aspect of this injury that Tressel has dealt with is the personal remorse a coach must go through when a player is injured under his watch.
Tressel said that he had one of his players die nearly 31 years ago, but until this injury, had not seen anything more than a few broken bones and cuts and bruises.
"I remember very vividly the night that I had a player die," he recalled, "I was on my way to Cleveland to drop off the film and wait for it to be finished if that shows you how old I am, and I remember sitting there that night wondering to myself what I was doing.
"I just hope the Gentry family can have the awareness and togetherness to get through this," he added, "because no matter what, we can't go back and run the play again so that it doesn't happen – it did happen. What a horrible feeling it is."
The Gentry family has taken many pages out of the Tressel book to get through the injury, and continue to take the next steps in life for Tyson's recovery.
Gentry, a middle school teacher in Sandusky, says they must focus on Tyson's goals and look to the future in hopes of one day his walking again.
"We have a game plan like Coach Tressel has," Gentry added. "We're going to beat the opponent (the injury) and we're going to be a national championship family."
The road to Gentry's championship began on July 20 – Tyson's birthday.
He joined his teammates and coaches for a birthday party. The team sang happy birthday and gave him a birthday present.
"I got a home jersey, which was really neat," Gentry said. "I love that jersey. It's so neat. It would be in the locker room before the game and it's hanging in your locker and I just loved to hold on it and stare at it for a while before I would put it on my shoulder pads and go out. It was a really nice gift."
Putting on that jersey is just a part of the championship plan. It's always going to be a part of him.
As he gets moved into his new apartment with the aid of his family, it's just another small step towards the day when Gentry hopes to take a giant step.
Thursday was a good start.
Former Nittany Lion Adam Taliaferro will return to Columbus this weekend as Penn State visits Ohio…