NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A few feet away from where the Ohio State Buckeyes are going through their paces in preparation for Monday night's national championship game against LSU, Tyson Gentry sits in his wheelchair in the sun, pondering his future and how it was forever changed by one simple slip.
Gentry was a skinny but athletic walk-on punter and wide receiver in the spring of 2006 when he went out on a pass play during practice, slipped as the ball arrived, and landed awkwardly.
He suffered a broken vertebra in his neck and a damaged spinal cord, and has been unable to walk since.
``I'm doing well. I'm trying to stay warm,'' he said with a grin as he attempted to burrow deeper into a light jacket while watching Ohio State's practice on Friday at Tulane University. ``The wind kind of gets to me and just tightens my body up.''
Gentry remains a part of the Buckeyes. He attends many team functions, goes to practice every day, and is still listed on Ohio State's roster for the championship game.
``I'm definitely optimistic. In fact things have gotten a lot better the longer out from the injury just because you get more into a routine, you get more comfortable with your body and your surroundings and more able to do things for yourself,'' he said. ``Just because I haven't made a whole lot of progress toward walking doesn't mean that the goal isn't still there.''
Elsewhere, life is moving forward at a steady pace. He and his sister Ashley recently moved into a house in the Columbus area, which is much more spacious and easier for him to move around with his wheelchair.
He continues to attend classes and hopes to graduate in 2009. He has also begun giving motivational speeches, delivering one for a group trying to raise funds to make the second floor of a YMCA wheelchair-accessible.
``Overall, things are going really well,'' he said. ``I've lucked out being healthy and maintaining that. That's the biggest focus, as long as my health stays up there, then it trickles down.''
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DON'T SWEAT IT: LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton isn't complaining about the increasing length of college football games. It's one of the reasons Crowton, who served as the Chicago Bears offensive coordinator from 1999-2000, prefers the college game to the NFL.
``You get more plays,'' Crowton said. ``You get 20 more plays, on an average.''
For Crowton, more plays means more chances to tinker with his attack. It also gives him a chance to teach on the fly, which is another reason he prefers the campus game.
``You're working on the kids mentally,'' he said. ``I call them kids in college even though they're not really kids.
``You're able to look at them and say, 'I know you threw an interception, don't worry about it,''' Crowton said. ``And they're like, 'Yeah, everybody's booing me. How can you not worry about it? They're going to write about it tomorrow.'''
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THAT HURTS: Kirk Barton enjoys seeing a good block as much as anyone. Still, the Ohio State offensive tackle winced when he saw the blow that hurt LSU star Glenn Dorsey earlier this season.
A chop block by Auburn gave Dorsey a sprained right knee, and the All-American defensive tackle wasn't at full strength the last five games.
``I was surprised there was no penalty. I'll bite my tongue,'' Barton said. ``But if I would have been a defensive coordinator, I would have been at midfield if I saw that. It was an obvious high-low.
``Just because of who he is, he's a dominant player and you couldn't really block him, so you take him out like that? It's just sad because I was watching that when it happened. I thought he tore everything. It was pretty vicious.''
Asked whether he thought Auburn deliberately tried to hurt Dorsey, Barton held off.
``You hate to say that because you just don't know. But it's unfortunate when something dirty like that happens. It was pretty blatant. That's just my opinion,'' he said. ``It's sad when it's a kid like that who came back for his senior year to help his team and he could have lost a lot of money that you can never really make up.''
Soon after the game, LSU coach Les Miles called the block ``immoral'' and Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville apologized. SEC commissioner Mike Slive later said a personal foul penalty should have been called.
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SURFER BOY: LSU's ``Surfer Boy'' has in fact never surfed in his life.
Tigers safety Craig Steltz, a New Orleans native, spent much of his recreational time like many in the ``sportsman's paradise'' of Louisiana's swamps and marshes: Hunting and fishing.
The usually calm waters off the Gulf Coast are far more suited to fishing than getting ``tubular'' on a surf board. When the waves do get big, it's usually because of a storm that people around here would rather flee.
Somewhere along the way, however, he decided to let his older brother's wife, a hairstylist, use him as her guinea pig.
``She kind of messes around with it,'' Steltz said of his hair styles. ``I trust her enough.''
He ended up with nearly shoulder-length blond hair that tends to flop over the side of his face.
``She might highlight it and stuff and do kind of different things,'' Steltz said.
His teammates rib him about looking like a pretty boy sometimes, but Steltz can't complain. He gets the family rate (free) and his girlfriend, Lindsay, likes it.
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RUMOR CONFIRMED: Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock confirmed on Friday that his daughter, Shannon, a Columbus schoolteacher, is dating starting quarterback Todd Boeckman.
Heacock confirmed it, but it wasn't like he knew much about the relationship.
``I was the last to find out they were dating,'' he said. ``And they tell me the least.''
For the record, Heacock is OK with the match.
``Todd's an unbelievable young man - he's got great character, a quality individual, with a great family,'' he said. ``I don't think you can get much better.''
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BUSINESS PROBLEM: LSU offensive tackle Ciron Black was asked if he understood how the Tigers became the first two-loss team to play for a national title.
``I've been in college for three years and I still have no idea about the BCS or how it works,'' said Black, a business major who made the 2006 SEC Freshman Academic Honor Roll.
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TIGERS NO SHRIMPS: When Ohio State played the Florida Gators in last year's championship game, some Ohio retailers stocked up on alligator meat for Buckeyes fans looking for something appropriate to chew on.
Monday's championship game poses more of a challenge, since the Buckeyes are playing the LSU Tigers.
Meat from endangered tigers isn't an option.
So, spokesman Dale Hollandsworth with Cincinnati-based Kroger says a person in the company's advertising department had an idea.
A circular for the supermarket chain blares the headline ``Grab the Tigers by Their Tails'' above a deal on raw tiger shrimp.
Hollandsworth says it's a popular item for parties.
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