LARAMIE – It was a new experience for Gunner Gentry.
Last season, as a true freshman, the wide receiver from Aurora, Colorado, learned what it was like to be a college football athlete, as well as a college student.
On the field, Gentry played in 10 of UW’s 12 games, but most of his time was not at wide receiver. It was on special teams.
“It was a great learning experience,” Gentry said. “I got a good taste of what college football really is with the speed and that sort of thing, and how to play hard. (Special teams) was something I never did in high school. I learned to find my role in the system, and it helped me grow as a player and a person.”
Gentry saw time on all four of UW’s special teams units, and three of his four tackles were solo stops. He said his best hit was made on the kickoff team as he tackled Utah State’s Savon Scarver in the fourth quarter in Laramie and held Scarver, one of the top return specialists in the Mountain West Conference, to a 24-yard gain.
As a wide receiver, Gentry is used to being hit. On special teams, he was the one doing the hitting.
“I liked to hit some people and to be aggressive like that. It was a good change of pace,” he said.
So far during fall camp, Gentry has practiced on all four special teams groups, and hopes he will continue to be a part of them all. UW co-special teams coordinator AJ Cooper said Gentry is either on the first or second team on all four of UW’s special teams units.
However, Gentry also hopes to be more in the mix at wide receiver.
One positive for Gentry is he’s healthy. He missed most of the spring with a stress fracture in his right foot that developed at the start of winter conditioning.
Sixth-year UW coach Craig Bohl said Gentry has had a good start to camp, and, in particular, made some nice catches during a red zone drill during the first full week of camp.
“He’s got good size (6-foot-3, 208 pounds) and a good presence,” Bohl said. “He tracks the ball well, and his catch radius is excellent. It is important for him to assimilate a lot more into the offense, and run his routes with more confidence. He’s certainly making good strides.”
Gentry said he feels more confident in the offense, and has honed in on the nuances of route running and how to get open. Those were difficulties for UW receivers at times last season. The Cowboys averaged only 131.3 passing yards per game, and among the returning wide receivers this season, no one averaged more than 11.1 yards per catch.
“When my number is called, I will be ready and make the most of the opportunity given to me,” he said.
Gentry had a lot of hype follow him when he signed with UW. Not only was he a first team Class 5A All-State selection as a senior at Grandview High, he is the younger brother of former UW wide receiver Tanner Gentry (2013-16), who tied for fourth in school history in career touchdown catches (20), fifth in career receiving yards (2,815) and eighth in career catches (180). Tanner Gentry’s best single season came as a senior in 2016, when he caught 72 passes for 1,326 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The physical resemblance between the Gentry brothers is uncanny. Both also have similar traits in terms of how they talk, and even walk and run.
“It is a running joke in the locker room where guys call me T.G., which was my brother’s nickname here,” Gunner Gentry said. “It is fun and cool, but (my teammates) know that I want to grow by myself, and be my own type of person and player.”
Gunner said he talks with his older brother a lot. Tanner is a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears, and Gunner said he talked to Tanner the night before the Bears’ first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
“We send practice clips to each other, and (Tanner) can be pretty hard on his critiques of me,” Gunner said with a smile. “Some days he gets into me a little bit, but it good to have another perspective on things like that.”
UW reached the midway point of camp Tuesday with its 10th practice. It worked out in shoulder pads and shorts on the practice field south of War Memorial Fieldhouse.
Bohl said redshirt freshman starting quarterback Sean Chambers had a good day.
“Sean did a nice job throwing the football, and he’s gaining more and more of an understanding of our full playbook,” Bohl said. “In our opening game (Aug. 31 versus Missouri), we’re going to be able to be much more versatile than last year with him.”
Bohl added that sophomore backup quarterback Tyler Vander Waal has had a good camp, and he singled out the efforts of sophomore linebacker Chad Muma, junior offensive guard Logan Harris, junior free safety Braden Smith, along with UW’s two projected starters at offensive tackle – sophomore Rudy Stofer and junior Alonzo Velasquez.
Bohl said the concerns he has right now include: the consistency of UW’s wide receivers in making contested catches; the safety spots, because most of the players UW has – aside from senior strong safety Alijah Halliburton – have not seen a lot of playing time; and depth along the interior defensive line. That depth took a big hit Tuesday as Bohl said junior defensive tackle Ravontae Holt – a projected starter – will miss the season with a torn ACL.
Cooper, who also coaches the defensive ends and is the run-game defensive coordinator, said redshirt freshman Solomon Byrd has had a good camp, and has worked his way up to the top three defensive ends, along with senior Josiah Hall and junior Garrett Crall.
“We’ve seen some maturing, a better understanding of the game and his ability to finish, especially at the end of practice,” Cooper said. “He’s added strength and power, but he is more leaner.”
Byrd is listed at 6-foot-4, 243 pounds.
He played in three games last season and recorded five tackles. New rules in college football allowed UW to redshirt Byrd because he played in four or fewer games.
Cooper added there is good competition for the spots behind Hall, Crall and Byrd with sophomore Davon Wells-Ross; redshirt freshmen Levi Lafaele, Jack Boyer and Teagan Liufau, and true freshman DeVonne Harris.
“I always say there’s two hungry dogs and one piece of meat. One dog is getting the meat. We need to get the meat,” Bohl on the wide receivers making contested catches.
UW on TV
The Mountain West Conference announced Tuesday that two UW home football games will be televised by AT&T SportsNet: Oct. 19 versus New Mexico at 2 p.m. and Oct. 26 at noon versus Nevada.
Eleven of the Cowboys’ 12 games this season will be carried on television or digital platforms. It was announced Monday that UW’s regular-season finale at Air Force on Nov. 30 would be carried by Facebook. Kickoff for that game is at noon.
There has been no television or game time announcements for UW’s Sept. 21 game at Tulsa.
Bohl said UW will scrimmage Saturday, which will be its 14th practice of camp.
“We will go through the week and see how healthy we are to determine how many plays we scrimmage,” Bohl said. “It will be a really important scrimmage, and probably pretty lengthy.”
The scrimmage is closed to the public and media.