Zach Gentry has a decision to make

Thursday, December 27, 2018 - 1:04pm

Redshirt junior Zach Gentry has yet to make a decision as to whether he will return next season

Redshirt junior Zach Gentry has yet to make a decision as to whether he will return next season Buy this photo
Katelyn Mulcahy/Daily

ATLANTA — Yes, Zach Gentry has received his draft grade. No, he has not made a decision nor has a timetable for doing so.

These questions, in tandem, flooded the redshirt junior tight end’s Thursday morning media availability, two days before he plays for what could be his final time in college. His answers offered little clarity.

“I don’t want to worry about (deciding), really, until after the game,” Gentry said. “I just want to make sure that I go out there and have a good game for myself and for the team.”

So there are reasons for both? 

“Yeah.”

Are you leaning one way

“No, not really.”

Are you truly torn with it

“Yeah.”

If Gentry does indeed forgo that final year of eligibility, it will be the culmination of a winding career, filled with an inordinate amount of highs and lows.

Four years ago, Gentry came to Michigan a highly-touted quarterback — the first of coach Jim Harbaugh’s tenure — before being converted to tight end after his first year. In 2017, his first season with substantial playing time, Gentry notched 17 catches for 303 yards. This year those numbers jumped to 30 catches for 475 yards. There were games — namely, Maryland — in which Gentry flashed every ounce of his vast potential. Standing at 6-foot-7, with a legitimate 4.6-second 40-yard dash time, it’s not hard to see why an NFL team could be intrigued by him. He fits the mold of a versatile, modern NFL tight end.

But for some, fairly or otherwise, Gentry’s season will be remembered for what wasn’t rather than what was. Against Ohio State, Gentry dropped three key passes on third downs — including a would-be touchdown. His day went from bad to worse when that third drop culminated in a concussion.

The backlash was fervent; Gentry deleted his Twitter. It’s clear, 33 days later, even with a bowl game looming, that sentiment festers.

“I think on that stage and that setting, it's disappointing, obviously,” Gentry said. “I'm the one who did it. But, you know, it happens. I'm a human being. … Caught a lot of balls all season, and that was the game that, unfortunately, some of that stuff happened.”

A few days after the game, Gentry went into tight ends coach Sherrone Moore’s office a bit early. Though it would exceed naivety to blame the 62-39 blowout on Gentry alone, Moore knew Gentry still carried some burden. To boot, it was the first time in Gentry’s life he’d left a game due to injury.

“But he told me, you know, I dropped some balls I should have caught, but he told me, I just got done watching Gronk on film,” Gentry recalls. “You dropped three balls in a game. You dropped two balls in this game. It's not that big of a deal.”

As far as his draft decision is concerned, it’s hard to ignore how these factors converge. Gentry’s raw talent is undeniable. His tape — though limited — offers glimmers of tantalizing potential. But there’s a real case he needs to show more of it with more consistency, before an NFL team will seriously invest in him. Few, if any, mock drafts have Gentry in the top-two rounds (For what it’s worth, Gentry wouldn’t reveal what grade he received). And for Gentry, the only way to rid what lingers from Ohio State would be to return for another shot.

Junior quarterback Shea Patterson, who has already announced his return for a senior season, has made his pitch. According to Patterson, it centers around, essentially: “We’re gonna win a lot of games next year.”

“I think he’d rather I stay, honestly,” Gentry said, with a chuckle. “We’ve had some really good conversations, especially recently. He’s excited about it. Like I said, another year in the system with him would be fun.”

With or without Gentry, Michigan will have depth and upside at tight end next year. Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks will be seniors. Gentry pointed to freshmen Mustapha Muhammad and Luke Schoonmaker as emergent talents. Four-star recruit Erick All will also enter the fold.

On a team littered with returning offensive talent, Gentry would serve as a centerpiece and a safety-blanket in Patterson’s second year under center. “He’s a heck of a target,” Patterson said, after the Maryland game on Oct. 6, in which Gentry caught seven passes for 112 yards. “You can really put it anywhere — (6-foot-8), fast too. Kinda like (Rob Gronkowski) out there. He’s going to play this game for a long time. Just excited I can throw the ball to him.”

There’s no doubt that familiarity — which extends off-the-field, as roommates on the road — would bear fruits. At some point after Saturday’s bowl game, Gentry will have to add all those variables and arrive at a conclusion. But sitting in a hotel ballroom, toying the line between what has been of these last days, weeks and years; and what still could be, Gentry ponders a simpler explanation. 

“University of Michigan’s not a bad place to be, either.”