By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
WARREN -- Kelci Amina Jones Stringer walked onto the stage at First Assembly of God church in Warren on Monday to address the 1,300 people who had gathered to celebrate the life -- and mourn the death -- of her husband, Korey Damont Stringer.
What could have been the weakest moment of Kelci's life was arguably her strongest.
"It is unbelievable how extremely awesome I feel right now," Kelci said. "A lot of you don't understand the strength I have right now. But there is no bad feeling he ever left me with. He was an answer to all my prayers and he made my dreams come true."
Stringer, an offensive tackle with the Minnesota Vikings, died last Wednesday of heat stroke after collapsing during a practice. He was 27.
About 300 hundred watched Monday's service on closed-circuit television, while hundreds more gathered outside the church.
First victim: The 6-4, 335-pound lineman starred for Harding and Ohio State before the Vikings selected him with the 24th pick in the 1995 NFL draft.
Stringer was the first NFL player to die of heat stroke.
Monday's funeral highlighted his faith, his service to the community, and his devotion to friends and family.
"He was just the realest dude I ever knew," said Kelci. "I thank you Korey for choosing me to be the realest woman you ever knew."
After the service, Stringer was buried in his purple No. 77 Vikings jersey at Pineview Cemetery in Warren.
Several friends and family members remembered him during the service, including his older brother, Kevin.
"My brother was a reflection of Jesus and the light he gives," said Kevin. "Korey is gonna live on because he knew Jesus. Let us make a point to have that same relationship."
Makes plea: At one point, Kevin spoke specifically to the men in the crowd, calling for them to be morally upright, and to care for their families.
"To all of us men in here, you know how hard we work to put up a front," he said. "But it takes a strong man to show his heart. Honor my brother by doing something good. And when you do, don't tell anyone about it. Do it because it's good. Because it's right."
The message earned a standing ovation.
Phil Annarella, who coached Stringer at Harding, said he received dozens of phone calls the past week from people with stories of Stringer.
"If there's anyone to be looked up to, it was Korey," Annarella said. "There's not one morning that I've woke up in the past week that my first thought wasn't of Korey. And there's not one evening that my last thought wasn't of him. He was a real hero."
OSU alumni: Ex-Buckeye football players Eddie George, Rickey Dudley, Robert Smith, Orlando Pace, Cris Carter and Steve Tovar were among those who attended Monday's funeral.
Vikings teammates Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper also attended.
The service lasted more than two hours, following two days of calling hours in Warren, and a memorial service in Minnesota on Friday. Stringer is survived by 3-year-old son, Kodie; parents, James and Cathy; brother, Kevin; and sister, Kim.
At the end of his speech, Annarella talked about his love for his ex-player.
"Korey, we love you," he said. "Thank you for being part of our lives. The cheering, the applause, and the love for you will never end."