Monroeville students in grades five through 12 showed their love and support for The Ohio State University during an assembly Thursday. The featured speaker was former OSU football player Tyson Gentry, a 2004 Perkins High School graduate who lived in Norwalk until the fifth grade.
“It was my dream to play football at Ohio State,” he said. “My goals were athletically minded.”
Gentry mostly played wide receiver at Perkins. OSU recruited him to be a punter. In his freshman year, he was a receiver for the Buckeyes’ scout team and eventually developed into playing the position full time.
Gentry broke his neck during an April 14, 2006 intrasquad scrimmage. He landed awkwardly while catching a pass in the middle of the field and became instantly paralyzed.
With that one play, Gentry said his life changed forever. He spent a week in the intensive care unit, wondering if he would walk again, play football or even if he would ever find a woman who would marry him.
“It was the worst week of my life,” said Gentry, who had spinal and neck surgeries and remains in a wheelchair. “I really did question if (all I sacrificed) was all worth it.”
Cornerback Kurt Coleman, later a safety, was the OSU player who hit Gentry on the fateful day in 2006. Now a player for the New Orleans Saints, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010. Coleman also has played for the Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs and Carolina Panthers.
Gentry and Coleman remain close to this day. Coleman, in a FOX video segment played for the Monroeville students, said he was concerned about seeing Gentry and his family for the first time after the 2006 incident, but they welcomed him.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better person to tackle me,” Gentry said with a smile after the assembly.
While in the hospital, his body was sensitive to loud noises. Gentry said “basically anything above a whisper” made his body act chaotically, as if he were being electrocuted.
“One day at a time I slowly got better,” he added.
It took Gentry about a month of intensive therapy to gain enough strength in his biceps to bring his hands to his face. Despite not having any feeling in his hands, Gentry can hold items, such as the microphone he used to speak to the Monroeville students.
“I am thankful for a lot of the things I do have,” he said, which include the ability to feed himself and hug his family.
Now married and the father of two young children, Gentry said when he was in “the dark days,” many of his friends, coaches and teammates helped him get through it. He said that experience and the subsequent years made him realize it’s OK to depend on people and now he focuses on “the three F’s” — faith, family and friends.
In 2014, Gentry started the New Perspective Foundation, named after the fresh point-of-view he had after his injury. The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization is geared toward helping people in Florida, Georgia or Ohio. The mission of the foundation is assisting the family and friends of a patient with a spinal cord injury “with airfare, gasoline and or lodging expenses, so they can travel to support the hospitalized individual in his or her time of need.”
Gentry’s speech focused on facing tough times.
“Adversity comes in a lot of forms,” he said. “Don’t ever give up; we all face some form of adversity.”