Tyson Gentry's time as a member of the Ohio State football program is drawing to a close. But not before the fifth-year senior became a part of history Saturday.
The 10th-ranked Buckeyes scored 28 points in the second half and pulled away from rival Michigan with a 42-7 win Saturday to give the Buckeyes their first-ever five- game winning streak in the series.
Though Gentry, who suffered a broken vertebra during spring practice in April 2006 and now uses a motorized wheelchair, never saw the playing field in his five seasons with the program, his influence and optimism was felt throughout a special week for each of the 28 seniors on the Buckeyes' roster.
Gentry was chosen by head coach Jim Tressel to speak on behalf of the senior class at Saturday morning's Skull Session with the OSU Marching Band at St. John's Arena.
As the 225-piece band played fights songs to ready the thousands of fans, the senior class made its way onto the floor before Gentry addressed the crowd.
His message was direct and to the point.
"I'm Tyson Gentry, No. 24," he said as the crowd cheered. "We need you making as much noise as possible out there for us today. We certainly want to go out and make the Big Ten proud."
Nothing fancy or cliche from his speech, Gentry said later, adding he wasn't sure what he would say into the microphone until just before he entered St. John's Arena. But on a team full of All-Americans and future NFL first-rounders, Tressel turned to Gentry, who remains on the roster and attends practices and team meetings, to be the voice for 28 students playing their final home game.
"I was very humbled, I guess," Gentry said. "It was a very humbling experience he thought of me in that situation, and I was really honored."
Behind the scenes, Gentry participated in each facet of the activities during the week that lead up to college football most storied rivalry; Thursday's Senior Tackle, Friday's Senior Dinner, and Saturday's Skull Session with the Ohio State Marching Band and the Tunnel of Pride during pregame introductions before kickoff.
Gentry was introduced to the capacity crowd of 105,564 at Ohio Stadium as the final member of OSU's senior class -- even after the introduction of the Buckeyes' four senior captains, Todd Boeckman, James Laurinaitis, Brian Robiskie and Malcolm Jenkins.
Heading down the Tunnel, Gentry said his mind turned to the hundreds of players before him for a program that has compiled 808 wins -- fifth best in major college football. The 23-year old Perkins graduate raised a hand in the air to acknowledge the crowd, then made his way through the band and between a throng of former Ohio State football players before greeting his parents, Bob and Gloria.
"It's all been such a positive experience. There's really nothing like it," Bob said, who smiled when recalling the moment he met his only son on the field. "It's an experience that not a lot of people get to be involved with."
His father played for the Buckeyes in the '70s under coach Woody Hayes, and complied a 2-1-1 mark in his four years wearing the scarlet and gray.
Gentry, on pace to graduate with a degree in speech and hearing science in the spring, isn't ready to call it a career yet.
"I don't know if it will set in until after the bowl game," he said. "Probably after the banquet it'll hit home a little more."
He undergoes continuous therapy at OSU's medical campus and has seen improvement with his trunk strength.
Gentry is a finalist for the 2008 FedEx Orange Bowl/FWAA Courage Award, created by ESPN The Magazine writer Gene Wojciechowski to recognize an individual who displayed courage on or off the field, overcoming injury or physical handicap, or preventing a disaster or living through hardship.
"I was really surprised. I hadn't heard much about it until my dad said something to me about it after reading an online article," Gentry said. "It's a great privilege to just be mentioned, and I'm excited about and I cant wait to see (how it turns out)."
The recipient is announced in December and will be awarded a trophy.
"Tyson's a guy we all feed off of," Jenkins said in the postgame news conference. "He still has a positive mind."
Strong words coming from a player who passed up millions of dollars last year to return to Columbus for his senior season. Jenkins, an All-American and finalist for the Thorpe Award given to college football's top defensive player, would have likely been a top-10 pick in the Draft.
"He'll hold a meeting and speak his mind, and we all feed off that," Jenkins said. "He spoke to us (Friday) night, and he's been through so much with the injury."
In Saturday's OSU-Michigan program, Gentry was pictured on the cover alongside individual photographs of the other 27 members of the senior class, who now own a 43-7 career record, four Big Ten titles, four wins over the Wolverines and two trips to the BCS title game. The 43 wins ties the record for most victories by a senior class with groups from 1995-98 and 2002-05.
Even though Michigan entered the rivalry game with a losing record for the first time since 1967, it was the fourth largest crowd in stadium history.
The crowd responded to Gentry's request on Michigan's first drive, when the Wolverines had the ball at the OSU 13 following Stevie Brown's interception and return of a Terrelle Pryor pass. Ohio State's defense forced a three-and-out,
K.C. Lopata missed a 35-yard field goal taht would have given underdog Michigan a 3-0 lead and the Buckeyes escaped without any damage.
The rest was history.
Related article: Nov. 23, 2008 - Perkins' Gentry one of few to get five golden pants