ANN ARBOR — In another life, perhaps Zach Gentry would be leading Texas’ revival under Tom Herman. Gentry could be the toast of Austin after the Longhorns’ signature victory against Oklahoma.
Instead, the quarterback turned tight end is at Michigan, which seeks a statement win of its own. The No. 12 Wolverines host 15th-ranked Wisconsin on Saturday in a game that will serve as validation for Michigan if it wins, signaling an entire offseason worth of hype had merit. For at least one week, anyway.
To arrive at its final destination, Michigan needs Gentry to continue an ascension that inexorably will end with him being one of the top tight end prospects in the draft.
“I don’t know if there’s any magic to it,” Gentry said, “but I’m getting open and he’s able to find me.”
‘He’ is quarterback Shea Patterson, who befriended Gentry soon after transferring from Mississippi to Michigan. The duo developed an immediate on-field chemistry during spring practice that’s proven productive in actual games. Gentry is the team’s leader in receptions (20) and receiving yards (306). He has at least one catch in all six games and is coming off his best outing of his career, a seven-catch, 112-yard performance against Maryland.
The 6-foot-8, 262-pound Gentry could double as a male model or play the part of Zeus in a theater production of Clash of the Titans. His size and freakish athleticism leads to Rob Gronkowski comparisons.
“He’s a heck of a target,” Patterson said. “You can really put it anywhere — 6-8, fast too. Kind of like Gronk. He’s going to play this game for a long time.”
Gentry, a redshirt junior, was a four-star quarterback recruit out of New Mexico. He decommitted from Texas and became Jim Harbaugh’s first quarterback recruit. But a position change was made during his first season and Gentry’s steadily progressed since, turning into one of Michigan’s biggest downfield threats.
“He’s going to have everything you want from a tight end,” Harbaugh said. “Being able to block, being able to catch, being able to gain separation and make the tough catch. He has the big catch radius, in-line blocking, in-space blocking, he’s got the speed that you like to see, the athleticism you like to see. Everything he’s done as a player, he’s improved and developed.”
Gentry had receptions of 15, 16, 16, 19, and 31 yards against Maryland, highlighting where he can find space on the field. He has an overwhelming size advantage on cornerbacks and safeties, and linebackers are too slow to cover him.
“He knows little tricks to get by you or get underneath you,” sophomore linebacker Devin Gil said. “I feel like he’s a very talented and unique tight end.”
He isn’t the only one. Harbaugh, who’s partial to the position, has made the tight end a focal point of the passing game. Through six games, Michigan tight ends have caught a combined 32 passes for 450 yards and two touchdowns.
“Sherrone Moore’s doing a heck of a job,” Harbaugh said of the first-year tight ends coach.
Pregame warmups offer Gentry a time to walk down memory lane and throw the football around. He’s often spotted with football in hand, launching passes to teammates. And just maybe it could come to a game near you.
“We’re excited to explore those new things we’re going to do with him throughout the year,” Moore said. “I won’t let that out the bag yet.”
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