Aug. 2, 2001

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.”