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Remembering a hero



Published: Mon, August 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Friends said money and NFL success never changed the football player.

By BRIAN RICHESSON

VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF

WARREN -- Fame and fortune never changed Korey Stringer. His success in the NFL only strengthened the good feelings people had for him.

"I just saw him a month ago at Perkins [restaurant]," said Mike Bradley, 33, of Warren. "When he came into town, he never got a big head. He always stayed the same."

Stringer, the Minnesota Vikings offensive tackle who died last week of heatstroke, will be laid to rest today after a funeral at First Assembly of God church on Parkman Road. He was 27.

"He didn't quite get the ring he worked hard for all these years, but right now that man is wearing a crown," said ToWan L. Johnson, Stringer's cousin of Warren, during a five-hour public viewing Sunday at Harding High.

Stringer starred for Harding and Ohio State University before Minnesota selected him with the 24th pick in the 1995 NFL draft.

Using his 6-foot-4-inch, 335-pound frame, Stringer became a dominant lineman for the Vikings.

Those who knew him said he was much more.

"Korey did so much for this community," Bradley said. "The Pop Warner Little Raiders wouldn't be playing football this year without Korey. He gave his Pro Bowl check to them."

Visitors: With television trucks parked outside Harding High and reporters and photographers milling about, visitors made their way through a line to see Stringer, whose body lay in a casket inside the Fieldhouse.

Flowers, yearbook pictures of Stringer and newspaper clippings of his on-field exploits surrounded the coffin. His Vikings jersey -- No. 77 -- was folded neatly on his chest.

Some visitors walked calmly through the line; others broke down in uncontrollable sobs. Some wore T-shirts that read "Sadly missed, always loved" and "Legends never die."

"This is a shock," said Ethan Banks, a senior-to-be at Harding. "A death like this makes it all worse and painful because something like this could have been prevented."

The heat index during training camp last week in Mankato, Minn., reached 110 degrees, and Stringer was hospitalized Tuesday after collapsing on the field. He died early Wednesday.

"This might make people look into the problem more and just understand what heat can do," said Banks, a basketball player at Harding. "If you run cross country or you play football, you should know what the possibilities are."

Positive influence: Scott Young and Nick Williams knew Stringer at an early age when they played neighborhood football together. Thoughts of Stringer brought out smiles in them.

"He made millions and millions of dollars, but he always came back to the place he lived," said Williams, 32, of Warren. "He never changed, no matter how much money he had."

Young, 31, of Warren, said, "We were so proud of him because he made it [to the NFL] by just being Korey."

Stringer had a positive influence on his peers at Ohio State. Noah Hutchinson of Cleveland, a student there at the time, quickly developed a liking for him.

"He was the best little big brother I had," said Hutchinson, 27. "There was never a dull moment with Korey. He'd take a situation and turn it into something funny."

Hutchinson is still thankful for the internship Stringer helped him get.

"I don't think that dude had a negative ounce of energy in him," Hutchinson said.

"After all of this crying, I'm still waiting for somebody to say, 'Damn, you've been asleep all day.'"

Stringer leaves his wife, Kelci, and 3-year-old son, Kodie.

"The best memories we have now, we'll get to enjoy," Young said, "but his son will never get to enjoy his dad. His son will never get to feel that or understand, and that hurts me."

Johnson felt it fitting for Stringer to be viewed Sunday at Harding. It was where many first learned about him and where they said goodbye.

"That's why they brought him back here," Williams said, "to rest in peace."

richesson@vindy.com




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