Once a QB, How Zach Gentry is Thriving at Tight End

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Once a QB, How Zach Gentry is Thriving at Tight End

Football

Once a QB, How Zach Gentry is Thriving at Tight End

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — With all the talk about Michigan’s weapon at quarterback in former five-star quarterback Shea Patterson about to take his first meaningful snaps for the Wolverines this Saturday, some forget about another four-star quarterback that Michigan has on the roster that should pose a huge threat to the Fighting Irish defense.

It’s just that he’s not a quarterback. Well, not anymore.

Long ago, back on National Signing Day in 2015, when pen hit paper, it looked like Jim Harbaugh had his first quarterback, with New Mexico native Zach Gentry flipped his commitment from Texas to the Wolverines. However, at the tail end of his first season in Ann Arbor, Gentry stopped working with the signal callers and as the bowl game approached, the 6-foot-8 quarterback started working with the tight ends.

That move didn’t pay off immediately, of course. Gentry notes that he’s played quarterback his whole life. Now he had to acclimate to catching passes, putting his hand in the ground and blocking. It certainly was an unusual trajectory.

But, once he mastered it heading into his third-year with the program, Gentry found himself the starter, passing the expected producers at the position such as Ian Bunting and Tyrone Wheatley Jr. Along with Sean McKeon, the two became a formidable one-two punch at the position.

Still, Gentry thinks about what it was — yet, not what it could have been. While he grew up dreaming of being that guy under center, dropping back and making passes, he feels fortunate that he found his new position in the past few years.

“I think about it all the time,” Gentry said. “I’m very lucky that I stuck it out and trusted what was going on here. I think about it pretty much every day. Kind of a crazy path. A lot of ups and downs, but I’m very happy (I switched).

“It was definitely a challenge,” he later continued. “When you think about getting here, obviously you always think about how it’s always going to be perfect and you’re going to come right in and you’re going to be used to everything and you’re gonna start, you’re gonna play. It very, very rarely happens like that, especially when you come in as a freshman. There was an adjustment period for sure.”

Some of his teammates don’t even recognize the 262-pound standout as a quarterback.

Team captain and junior left guard Ben Bredeson came to the team in 2016, after Gentry was already converted over to tight end. In retrospect, all he saw was a tight end still in need of physical development.

After a year with former strength coach Kevin Tolbert and this past offseason with new guru Ben Herbert, those expectations have been met, Bredeson says of Gentry.

“You guys remember Zach when he first got here,” Bredeson said. “He was a little skinnier. He’s put on a lot of weight. He really works hard in the weight room. He’s completely changed his body.

“The strides he’s made in the last two years, since I’ve been here, has been phenomenal.”

And now, as the co-starter along with McKeon, with his height, added bulk and a quarterback who can get him the ball, theoretically Gentry should be unstoppable. And that’s just what his teammates are hoping to see starting Saturday at Notre Dame.

Team captain and senior safety Tyree Kinnel notes that it’s not just Gentry’s size that poses a threat to players trying to defend him. Since converting over to tight end, Gentry has worked relentlessly to get better at pass catching and finding the soft spots in the coverage.

From what Kinnel has seen, mission accomplished.

“(He’s going to be) a big problem (for defenses),” Kinnel said. “He’s gotten so much better every year with his catching ability. He’s always been a good route runner. He could always run. Now he’s finding the open spots and now he’s catching the balls that should be caught. He’s definitely going to be a problem for defenses as well.”

Ben Bredeson concurs with that sentiment, noting his height advantage over the smaller defensive backs.

“I think Gentry (is) a big threat to the defense, obviously,” Bredeson said. “His size – you’re not going to have somebody on defense that can cover that size. He poses a different challenge for them, and we can find a way to use that.”

Big year or not this year — and Gentry is expected to have one, even getting on the Mackey Award Watch List for the nation’s top tight end — there’s a lot of advantages that Gentry has over more traditionally made tight ends, and that goes beyond his height.

Considering that he played quarterback growing up and then for one year collegiately, there’s one thing that Gentry feels gives him a leg up when he puts a hand in the ground on the line of scrimmage.

“Reading the defense,” Gentry said. “I think there are a lot of things that carry over, mentally more than physically, obviously. I think it’s helped a lot.”

While eyes are on him to have a big year, and considering that he was second on the team in 2017 in receiving yards with 303, there’s a better chance than not that Gentry makes a huge impact for these Wolverines.

Still, with all the accolades that Shea Patterson has been receiving, does Gentry ever look back and think — what if I was the quarterback?

Only kind of. Because, in honesty, in his mind, he’s now a tight end, through and through. But, that doesn’t mean his former positional vocation has left his heart completely.

“There are certain things I miss about it,” Gentry said. “I’m so used to playing tight end now and I’ve gotten so many reps, it’s not exactly something that’s on my mind all the time. There are definitely certain things I miss about it.

“It’s just so different than any other position in sport. I still think it’s the most challenging position mentally, physically, pressure. It’s the only position I really played growing up. I just kinda miss the feel of being under center and making the playcalls, I guess.”

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