For years, the Ohio State football program and the department of athletics have handled the situation with Tyson Gentry with the utmost in class.
As the former walk-on punter and wide receiver gets set to graduate, he had yet another night to remember last week at Ohio State’s annual Scholar-Athlete banquet.
The event honored a record 493 Ohio State student-athletes, but Gentry stole the show. Gentry, who suffered a broken C-4 vertebra and needed two surgeries to fuse his C-3 and C-5 vertebrae together and insert titanium plates for stability after a spring practice accident in 2006, received the biggest cheers of the evening when he pocketed three of the major awards given out.
Gentry was one of four athletes to receive the Corwin A. Fergus Memorial Award, which carries a $5,000 scholarship renewable for up to three years. The award, named after a former OSU football player, goes to athletes who have excelled on the field and in the classroom, showed positive qualities of character and citizenship and shown potential for success in a graduate or professional program.
He also won the Varsity “O” Scholarship, which provides a male scholar-athlete with a one-time stipend of $4,000 for postgraduate studies at Ohio State.
Finally, he captured the A.K. and Judith A. Pierce Phoenix Award, which is given to a student-athlete who has excelled in academics, athletics and personal growth attained through perseverance and hard work. The accompanying scholarship is to be used to attend graduate or professional school at Ohio State.
While the awards are chosen by committees after an application process and not by the department of athletics, it was nice to see that those who are involved in the selections saw fit to give Gentry a final nod. Though each of the other applicants surely was as overqualified as he was, it would be hard to find a more deserving winner, especially considering he’s about to conclude his undergrad career and start on the road to a master’s degree in speech-language pathology.
Gentry, still bound to a wheelchair more than three years after his injury, was unable to walk up the steps and across the stage to receive each of his awards in addition to his fourth-ever OSU Scholar-Athlete plaque, but event organizers including emcee Bill Davidge were right on the ball each time, bringing the microphone to Gentry for him to acknowledge the crowd of fellow coaches and athletes at the Greater Columbus Convention Center after each award.
The night so belonged to the Sandusky Perkins graduate that one almost expected him to receive the Big Ten Medal of Honor by the end, a prestigious prize which goes to the athlete in each gender who best combines athletics and academics in his or her career. (Instead, deserving teammate Brian Robiskie took home the men's trophy, and field hockey's Linda Haussener was the women's winner).
Afterward, I was lucky enough to get to spend a short two minutes with Gentry to ask him about the night. This was following numerous photo opportunities and after Gentry received well wishes from a good number of observers in the crowd.
I hadn’t yet had the chance to speak to Gentry over the past few years even though he’s been a mainstay around the football program since his injury. Nearly everyone who has ever talked to him leaves with high praise, and it was easy to see why.
“I’m extremely honored and very humbled to receive these awards,” he said. “Obviously Ohio State is no slouch in producing great scholars and great athletes. Honestly, I’m just very blown away that I would receive these awards. They will be very helpful in the future. I’m sure it will make it a lot easier.”
Gentry’s been lucky to have the support of the Ohio State family, led of course by head coach Jim Tressel, ever since his injury, and the gestures in the form of scholarships will go a long way in making his postgraduate career a success.
Gentry said that his undergraduate degree from the school of social and behavior sciences will be in speech and hearing science, but he plans to try to earn a master’s in speech-language pathology, a career idea he received from his father Bob.
“He was talking with some of the counselors at his middle school he teaches at, and he said it was a very good field,” Tyson said. “It really worked out very well.”
Gentry added that he still is doing therapy five days a week and “making slow but sure progress.”
Throughout his injury and therapy and the looming completion of his degree at Ohio State, Gentry has never been far from anyone’s mind. He was the last senior announced on Senior Day in 2008, being mobbed in the Tunnel of Pride after players like Robiskie and James Laurinaitis went through. The Columbus chapter of the National Football Foundation honored Gentry with a new award, the Tyson Gentry Courage Award, which was given for the first time in early 2009.
Now those associated with Ohio State yet again are doing what they can to help out Gentry on his latest quest. It seems only appropriate.