By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
It certainly wasn’t the route Zach Gentry figured would lead him to the NFL.
The colleges changed.
The positions changed.
The timeline changed. Twice.
But some things – like his attitude, work ethic and athleticism – always stayed the same. And on Saturday, the NFL, indeed, came calling.
“It’s really something else to get that phone call,” the former Eldorado High superstar told Enchantment Sports on Saturday afternoon, shortly after being selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fifth round of the NFL draft. The tight end was the 141st player selected overall.
“The Steelers had been talking to me the past couple of weeks, but you never know what will happen. You really can’t judge anything by all the mock drafts. I just know that I’m ready. I feel great about going to the Steelers. I’ve been working out like crazy and bulking up. I’m really ready to go.”
Gentry, one of the nation’s top high school quarterback prospects and one of the very best players to ever come out of New Mexico, was once ready to go to Texas.
He gave the Longhorns a verbal commitment before his senior season, turning down offers from a who’s who list of the most elite college programs in the country. Gentry, who was listed as 6-foot-7 and 237 pounds, passed for nearly 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns for coach Charlie Dotson’s Eldorado Eagles during his senior season. He ran for more than 1,000 yards with 22 TDs and simply took over one game after another.
However, his path soon altered.
After Michigan fired coach Brady Hoke and hired Jim Harbaugh, the latter flew to Albuquerque to try and change Gentry’s mind about Texas. Gentry took a recruiting trip to trip to Ann Arbor, changed his mind and signed with the Wolverines that February.
But Harbaugh didn’t stop recruiting signal callers, and Gentry was soon lost in the quarterback shuffle.
After a redshirt season in 2015, Gentry switched to tight end but didn’t play a snap in 2016. He finally took the field in 2017, and caught 17 passes for 303 yards and two TDs.
Last season, he was the team’s third leading receiver with 32 receptions for 514 yards and two touchdowns and was named third team all Big Ten.
Despite having a year of eligibility left at Michigan, Gentry — now 6-8, 265 pound — decided to declare himself eligible for the NFL draft.
“I talked to a lot of people and a lot of coaches, and I felt good about my chances (of being drafted),” Gentry said. “I thought the timing was right for me.
“You hear a lot of things about what people think you should do, but I felt confident about my chances.”
“I kept telling him that he was going to get drafted by the Steelers,” Eldorado basketball coach Roy Sanchez, one of Albuquerque’s biggest Steelers fans, said with a chuckle. “I had dinner with Zach on Monday and showed him my Steelers lanyard, and said, ‘Here’s where you going. I guarantee it.’
“I knew they needed a tight end. Pittsburgh is a great spot for Zach to go, and I really believe he’s just what they need. He is never a guy you need to worry about. He has a great work ethic and you never have to worry about him doing all the garbage so many athletes do. He just goes to work and gets the job done.
“He hasn’t changed one bit. He’s always been a class act and a great kid.”
Gentry averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds a game and was a first team all-state basketball player for Sanchez.
“There’s no doubt that playing basketball helped me so much in my transition to tight end,” Gentry said.
As for his childhood dream of making it to the NFL at that other position, Gentry said, “I jokingly put a little bug in coach Tomlin’s ear that I can still throw the ball. So you never know,” he said with a laugh.
Special thanks to ProviewNetworks and the NFHS Network for video highlights
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.