The Wolverine

November 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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18 THE WOLVERINE NOVEMBER 2018 BY JOHN BORTON A sking Zach Gentry what tight end he models himself after is like asking Jacques Cousteau which mountain climber he most emulated. The inquiry leaves Michigan's red- shirt junior tight end confounded — something opposing linebackers and defensive backs haven't accomplished this season. It's an honest reaction. Gentry never really thought about it. He grew up watching quarterbacks. He grew up playing quarterback, running the show, standing above the crowd in the most spotlighted position in foot- ball. At 6-8, 262 pounds, he still stands above the crowd. After the first seven 2018 contests, he also stood above all Michigan pass catchers in receiving yards (311) and tied for first in catches (21). He'd already exceeded his totals from those categories in his break- through 2017 campaign. He's become a favorite target of junior quarterback Shea Patterson, who wasn't exactly stingy in his comparisons following Michigan's runaway win over Mary- land. Calling Gentry "my boy," Patterson offered: "He's 6-8 and fast too. Kind of like Gronk [New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski] out there. He's go- ing to play this game for a long time, and I'm excited to be able to throw the ball to him." Drawing a Gronkowski reference as a still relatively new tight end counts for something. But the fourth-year Wolverine perhaps understands quar- terback hyperbole. He's been there, and took it in stride like he does an in- creasing number of Patterson passes. "Stature, maybe," Gentry mused. "He's going to go down as one of the best tight ends ever. That's pretty lofty. Maybe there are some similari- ties athletically. I appreciate what he said." Gentry also appreciates where he stands in the big picture right now. He's a vital part of a strong football team, playing before the biggest crowds in the nation, far removed from Eldorado High School in Albu- querque, N.M. Don't think for a second, though, that his position shift proved seam- less. Quarterback dreams die hard. He threw for 3,734 yards and 27 touch- downs as a QB at Eldorado. He came to The Big House to con- tinue unleashing the long ball, for the long haul, via the tutoring of Michi- gan football's quintessential quar- terback, Jim Harbaugh. Then that quarterback/head coach wanted him catching, blocking, cracking down on linebackers and paving the way for others. Gentry almost packed his bags. EMBRACING A CHANGE He has experienced numerous col- lisions since his switch to tight end as a redshirt freshman. Perhaps none of them hit him as hard as the initial suggestion that he switch positions, prompting the consideration of a more dramatic move. "I definitely thought about it a little bit," Gentry noted. "I was re- cruited as a quarterback. I'd only played quarterback growing up. But I sat down with Coach Harbaugh several times and he kind of mapped it out for me, and explained that he thought that was the best thing for my future. "At the time, it was kind of tough to understand. At this point, I'm glad that I was able to listen to him." Harbaugh assures the switch wasn't pre-planned, but a move de- signed to help both the Wolverines and Gentry as his roster developed. "We didn't have a lot of depth at quarterback when I first got here," Harbaugh explained. "Alex Malzone was already signed by the previous staff that had been here. We tried to get in on a lot of quarterbacks at that time, and Zach was really the only one that wasn't committed some- where else. "There was some interest from other quarterbacks, but his was the most. He was the best one we were able to get, not foreseeing that he would be a tight end." Gentry definitely didn't foresee it. He needed help getting over the mul- titude of rough spots, and received it from then-tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh and All-American tight end Jake Butt, who delivered copious amounts of encouragement. "At the time, he'd kind of seen some things in me as a tight end that maybe I didn't see myself yet," Gen- try recalled. "I wasn't used to play- ing the position, and I didn't really know what to look for. He reassured me every day, this was something that could really pay off for me if I'd just keep working." It wasn't like Gentry never hit any- one before, in a pampered QB situ- ation. He played linebacker before high school. "I loved playing linebacker, fill- ing the gap and hitting people," he said. "At that point, in grade school, I probably liked playing defense more than offense." Gentry also was no stranger to the receiving end of passes. He played receiver as a freshman at Eldorado, catching passes from older brother Sam, who eventually played fullback at the University of New Mexico. In a quarterfinal playoff game that season, the younger Gentry pulled in seven passes from his senior sibling. "Unfortunately, we lost, but that was some of the most fun I ever had," Gentry recalled. "I had a blast." SHIFTING INTO OVERDRIVE Former Quarterback Zach Gentry Tears It Up At Tight End Over the last year and a half, Gentry has made 38 catches for 614 yards and three touchdowns (through the first seven 2018 games). His yardage total during that span leads the team by 90 yards. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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