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Mark Smith: Gentry caught in bad business of college athletics

It’s the big business of college athletics.

And it sucks.

I understand that’s not an original concept.

But it doesn’t make it suck any less.

Not that anyone in Ann Arbor, Mich., gives a hoot about what some schmuck sportswriter in Albuquerque thinks.

I may very well be clueless about the entire situation. And admittedly, I have zero inside information. I’ve never seen a Michigan football practice, and have no idea how Zach Gentry looked in drills last year.

But I do know that moving former the Eldorado High sensation from quarterback to tight end has my dander up.

Again, I am barking from the outside. Not barking with a tone as shrill as Hillary, mind you, but barking nonetheless.


Zach hasn’t returned phone calls to the Journal, nor has his father, Tom.

That’s unusual for a couple of down-to-earth, stand-up guys.

Grandpa Bill Gentry, he of prep coaching Hall of Fame fame, said he “was perplexed” by the move, but didn’t know anything more about it.

The Michigan sports information department? They won’t even return emails from my colleague, prep guru James Yodice.

I realize that the way second-year Michigan football head coach Jim Harbaugh runs his program makes Nick Saban look like he’s running a day care, but can’t we still get a tidbit of information here?

Gentry, very possibly the greatest all-around quarterback in New Mexico prep history — and likely the most recruited — is now a tight end with the Wolverines.

Nearly every school in the country wanted the kid who was ranked as the No. 4 prep QB in the land. In the spring of 2014, Gentry ended a hotly contested recruiting war by trimming his choices to Texas and Alabama.

He had a Skype interview set up with Bama’s Saban, but cancelled it and made a verbal commitment to Texas.

Probably not the best bridge to burn. Had he gone to the Tide, Gentry would have a national championship ring and, likely, be battling for the starting QB role this spring.

Now it looks worse. Following the 2014-15 NFL season, Harbaugh was ousted as coach of the San Francisco 49ers, returned to take over his alma mater at Michigan, and almost immediately headed to Albuquerque.

He came to Gentry’s house, played catch with him in the front yard and convinced him to head north.

Hey, it’s Jim Harbaugh, man!

A year ago this month, Gentry signed with the Wolves.

“It’s been crazy,” Gentry said in a phone interview with the Journal at the time. “I do feel settled right now. It feels good ultimately laying my head on the pillow tonight thinking I’ll be Jim Harbaugh’s first quarterback recruit at Michigan.”

I immediately became a Wolverines’ fan.

Gentry redshirted this past season while NFL senior prospect Jake Rudock led Michigan — a long time power with just a 41-42 record during the past seven years — to a 10-3 mark, a No. 12 national ranking and a 41-7 drubbing of Florida in the Citrus Bowl.

The future looked great.

I never cared one way of the other about the Michigan program. Suddenly, I did — big time.

I wanted to see this kid — one of the brightest, well-spoken and stand-up prep athletes I’d ever covered — take snaps in the Big House.

Harbaugh, however, signed Brandon Peters, the nation’s No. 3 ranked prep quarterback from 2016, earlier this month. And last week, Harbaugh got a verbal commitment from Dylan McCaffrey — the nation’s top-ranked prep QB in the class of 2017. McCaffrey is the brother of Stanford superstar Christian McCaffrey and the son of former NFL receiver Ed McCaffrey.

It was a head-scratcher.

Until Friday, when Harbaugh announced that Gentry was permanently moving to tight end — the same position as rising senior Jake Butt, considered by most as the country’s best at that position.

Can Gentry be a great tight end?

I have little doubt.

A basketball star in high school, Gentry very well could follow a similar path of NFL star tight ends Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez, Julius Thomas and Martellis Bennett. Those guys even played college basketball.

At 6-foot-7, a chiseled 230 pounds and with 4.6 speed, maybe Gentry could be college version’s of New England’s Rob Gronkowski.

And maybe Gentry is sold on the position — or at least Harbaugh sold him on it.

But Eldorado coach Charlie Dotson said, when he talked with Gentry in December, his former star thought he would be in the mix at QB this season.

“All I know is I just want to see Zach happy,” Dotson told the Journal on Monday. “He’s a great kid, and as long as he’s happy, that’s what matters.”

I, too, hope he is. I just know that I’m not so giddy about the business of college athletics.

Chances are, Gentry’s not so comfortable on that pillow these nights.

Maybe tight end will work out. But maybe he’d like to see if any of those numerous other colleges still want him slinging balls for them.

If he transfers, he’d have to go to Division II in order to play next season. If he heads to another Division I, he’d have to sit out yet another year as a transfer — but still have three years left. But he’d need to do it quickly, as most spring practices are getting ready to roll.

It’s got to be a tough time for the Gentry family.

I just know one thing.

If I’m a huge fan of another program, say like a New Mexico, I’d be getting word to Gentry and his family — and to a coach, say, like Bob Davie — to lure Gentry elsewhere.

Like back to Burque.

Legally, per NCAA rules, of course.

Sure, Cullen Neal, once a basketball teammate of Gentry’s at Eldorado, is getting drilled on social media by some Lobo fans.

But I guarantee the only drilling involving Gentry at UNM Stadium would be the precision passes and big-time hits he’d be delivering against Lobo opponents.