Scoggins: For Vikings' Coleman, bond formed from a tragedy

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 21, 2014 - 7:14 AM

A friendship grew out of a legal tackle by the Vikings’ Kurt Coleman that paralyzed an ex-teammate.

Kurt Coleman had never personally met Tyson Gentry before he walked into his hospital room on an April day in 2006.

Coleman was 17 and scared. He didn’t know how Gentry and his family would react to seeing him. Or how he’d react to seeing Gentry, who was paralyzed from the chest down, an injury he suffered after being cleanly tackled by Coleman in practice at Ohio State.

Coleman brought a high school friend with him for support.

“We could tell by the look on his face that he was very distraught,” said Bob Gentry, Tyson’s father.

Then something remarkable happened when Coleman introduced himself. The Gentry family embraced him, showered him with compassion. Told him that everything will be OK and that they didn’t blame him for the devastating injury Tyson suffered.

“It was a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Coleman said.

That was eight years ago. Today, Coleman is competing for a spot in the Vikings secondary at safety. Tyson Gentry lives in Florida, still unable to walk yet still hopeful that he’ll get out of his wheelchair someday.

The two remain friends, forever linked by one routine hit on a football field.

“We have a bond between us,” Tyson said.

Coleman arrived at Ohio State that spring after graduating high school early. He played cornerback and everything was still new to him. He barely knew his teammates.

Coleman lined up across from Gentry, a sophomore wide receiver, in a team drill that day. Gentry ran a simple curl route and Coleman tackled him from behind, a clean hit.

“It was just a random play,” Tyson said. “I’ve been hit a lot harder than that.”

But he landed awkwardly and suffered a broken C4 vertebra in his neck. His parents were watching practice and knew something serious had happened when their son didn’t get up.

Gentry had two major surgeries, but even in that difficult time, he remained optimistic about his future. He even made a point to comfort Coleman from his hospital bed.

“I told him, ‘I don’t blame you at all,’ ” Tyson said.

Coleman blamed himself, even though he knew that he did nothing wrong. He briefly considered quitting football. He once gave an opponent a concussion on a tackle, but this was so much different. A kid was paralyzed because of his hit.

“I play this game tough, I play it with emotion and with heart,” he said. “I never play to physically hurt somebody.”

Coleman says he recovered emotionally because of his faith and the support he received from his family and Gentry’s family. That meant the world to a 17-year-old trying to come to terms with his role in a life-changing event.

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  • Oakland Raiders running back Maurice Jones-Drew (21) is wrapped up by Minnesota Vikings free safety Kurt Coleman (20) in the first half of a preseason NFL football game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Friday, Aug. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

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