Buckeye can't walk, but he can cheer

NEW ORLEANS -- A few feet away from where the Ohio State Buckeyes are going through their paces in preparation for Monday night's national championship game against LSU, Tyson Gentry sits in his wheelchair in the sun, pondering his future and how it was forever changed by one simple slip.

Gentry was a skinny but athletic walk-on punter and wide receiver in the spring of 2006 when he went out on a pass play during practice, slipped as the ball arrived, and landed awkwardly.

He suffered a broken vertebra in his neck and a damaged spinal cord, and has been unable to walk since.

"I'm doing well. I'm trying to stay warm," he said with a grin as he attempted to burrow deeper into a light jacket while watching Ohio State's practice Friday at Tulane University. "The wind kind of gets to me and just tightens my body up."

Gentry remains a part of the Buckeyes. He attends many team functions, goes to practice every day, and is still listed on Ohio State's roster for the championship game.

He continues to attend classes and hopes to graduate in 2009. He has also begun giving motivational speeches, delivering one for a group trying to raise funds to make the second floor of a YMCA wheelchair-accessible.

"Just because I haven't made a whole lot of progress toward walking doesn't mean that the goal isn't still there," Gentry said.

INTERNATIONAL BOWL, at Toronto -- The International Bowl could be the perfect showcase for Rutgers running back Ray Rice. The Scarlet Knights' all-time leading rusher will line up today against a Ball State defense that ranked 99th in the nation against the run this season, giving up nearly 200 yards a game. Rice, a two-time Associated Press second-team All-American, ran for 1,782 yards and 20 touchdowns in his junior season with the Scarlet Knights. He has yet to announce whether he'll skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

NFL DRAFT EARLY ENTRIES -- James Hardy, Indiana's career leader in touchdown receptions and yardage, will bypass his senior season. The 6-foot-7 junior came to Indiana to play basketball and finished as a third-team All-America football selection by The Associated Press. ... Receiver Davone Bess, a three-year starter for Hawaii, has decided to skip his senior season after NFL draft evaluators said he would be likely to be picked in the second round. ... Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey, who recorded 6.5 sacks this season, will skip his senior season.

NOLAN'S LUCKY WEEK -- Mike Nolan, who was retained earlier this week as the 49ers' head coach, will be accompanied by his staff in leading the South team in the Senior Bowl for the third year in a row. The NFL chooses the coaches each year for the game, an audition for top senior pro prospects.

"I think coaching the Senior Bowl is a great opportunity and a blessing for the entire San Francisco 49ers organization," Nolan said. "It's the best way to evaluate players that I've come to know."

QUICK HITTERS -- All charges were dropped against one of three people accused in a sexual offense case involving three North Carolina players, The News & Observer in Raleigh reported. Judge Alonzo Coleman dismissed kidnapping, robbery and sexual offense charges against Tnikia Washington during a probable cause hearing, according to the newspaper. ... Quarterback Bobby Reid, whom Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy defended earlier this season in a now-famous rant, has decided to leave the team according to a report in The Dallas Morning News. Gundy didn't refute the report, which quotes Reid's mother as saying her son would leave the team next season.