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Aug. 2, 2001

%^$By RUSTY MILLER
%^$AP Sports Writer%^$

%^$COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Ohio State was in the middle of preparations for the%^$1996 Citrus Bowl but all was not fun in the sun in Orlando, Fla.%^$

%^$A roster full of homesick 20-year-olds was virtually locked away in a hotel,%^$far from their families over the holidays.%^$

%^$Despite the ribbing he took from teammates, Korey Stringer pulled on a Santa%^$Claus costume and handed out presents at the team Christmas party.%^$

%^$It was vintage Stringer, the Minnesota Vikings’ tackle who died suddenly%^$Wednesday morning.%^$

%^$Stringer suffered from heat stroke during Tuesday’s workouts and was rushed%^$to a hospital. The 27-year-old husband and father died after his vital%^$organs shut down one by one.%^$

%^$”He was a gentle heart, very approachable,” said Steven Arnold, an assistant%^$coach during Stringer’s days at Harding High School in Warren, Ohio.%^$

%^$That never changed, even after he was taken in the first round of the 1995%^$draft by the Vikings, after he signed big-money contracts, after he%^$developed into one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL.%^$

%^$Arnold said he saw Stringer last week and mentioned the equipment needs of a%^$local youth football team.%^$

%^$”He went to his truck and said, ‘Here.’ He endorsed his Pro Bowl check,”%^$Arnold said.%^$

%^$At 6-foot-4 and 335 pounds, Stringer was someone who was quick with a laugh%^$and hard to forget.%^$

%^$For three years with the Buckeyes, Eddie George – now with the Tennessee%^$Titans – ran through holes in the line created by the massive Stringer.%^$

%^$”He was probably the greatest tackle in Ohio State history as far as%^$athletic ability and attitude,” George said. “He brought that toughness to%^$the line and (was) a great guy to be around in the locker room.”%^$

%^$Derrick Alexander, a Cleveland Browns scout who was drafted by the Vikings%^$the same year as Stringer, said his lasting memory is of Stringer’s smile -%^$even on a day when he was manhandled by Green Bay’s Reggie White.%^$

%^$”Korey had his worst game and Reggie White had his best game,” Alexander%^$said. “But he was on the sideline and, regardless of how bad the situation%^$was, he lightened the blow. Korey found a way to lighten the loss and that’s%^$just the kind of character and person that he is.”%^$

%^$A former linemate with the Vikings, Everett Lindsay, said of Stringer: “He%^$was a comedian. He was really funny. He would make you laugh all the time.%^$He would meet a new guy and after only two minutes he could do a great%^$imitation of him.”%^$

%^$Stringer started at right tackle the past two years for the Vikings, making%^$his home in the Twin Cities area and giving his time to local charities.%^$

%^$He left behind a wife and young son.%^$

%^$Corey Fuller, now a cornerback with the Browns, was a friend of Stringer’s%^$when he played with the Vikings. After hearing of Stringer’s death, he spent%^$Wednesday morning crying with two other former Minnesota teammates, Dwayne%^$Rudd and Stalin Colinet.%^$

%^$”He left a great legacy for his son, a lot of great things for his son to be%^$proud of,” Fuller said. “He didn’t come into this league and walk his way%^$through it. He played hard.”