PEELER: Gentry-fication of Special Teams
Sept. 21, 2010
BY TIM PEELER
RALEIGH, N.C. - Taylor Gentry gave his little brother Zach a piece of solid advice just before the latter became a walk-on for NC State's football team.
"Make them remember you," he said. "That's how you get on the team."
That was the advice Taylor's high school coach gave to him before he became a Wolfpack walkon, and his hard-nosed play eventually earned him both an athletic scholarship and the starting fullback job. So he felt comfortable advising his little brother, now a sophomore running back.
Taylor Gentry initially made his name on special teams. While still a scout team member, he went out of his way to make big hits on kickoff and punt coverage teams. His teammates still talk about the time he tackled T.J. Graham, a blow that got him kicked off the field by head coach Tom O'Brien.
But that hit made a lasting impression, on his teammates and on special teams coach Jerry Petercuskie. By the next fall Gentry was on nearly every special team and working out with the first-team offense. Last season, he was named the Wolfpack's top special teams player after leading the squad with 21 tackles.
"He has really taken pride in the fact that he is a leader on those groups," O'Brien said. "He's been contributing. He has his brother doing the same thing. Those two guys have a race down the field and are doing a great job."
Zach started the brother act last Thursday against Cincinnati. He made the first big hit on kickoff coverage and told Taylor it was his turn. They went back-and-forth throughout the game, with each recording two tackles on the night. Their sibling competition to be better than the other is a key reason the Wolfpack's coverage has been markedly improved this season.
And the flow of information isn't one-sided: Zach told his big brother that since he has bulked up so much in the offseason, he might consider leaping over opposing cornerbacks when he gets close to the goal-line instead of running the ball in, since would-be tacklers would probably try to cut his legs out from under him.
Taylor Gentry did just that against a Bearcat defender in the last game, cart-wheeling into the endzone for the third touchdown of his career.
The Gentry brothers certainly have flair, a trait they perhaps inherited from their mother, Kathryn Varner Gentry, who was a featured baton twirler in the NC State marching band from 1984-85. To have a chance to play for NC State, their parents' alma mater, is a dream come true for them both.
"I've been coming to games since I was about 7 years old," Taylor Gentry said. "I remember coming to Carter-Finley and watching the team run out on the field and saying `I want to play here.' I guess I am living a childhood dream."
Not to mention the dreams of his father, Rick, who was an undersized defensive end who played for legendary prep coach John McKissick at Summerville (S.C.) High School but was too small to advance to the college level.
"Every time we are out on the field, I look up there and see my dad standing up in the stands," Taylor Gentry said. "You can tell he's one of the happiest parents out there."
Both Gentry boys have become valuable contributors from O'Brien's preferred walk-on program, along with senior reserve linebacker Asante Cureton and junior reserve cornerback Jordan Monk.
Taylor Gentry arrived at NC State from Leesville Road High School in Raleigh as a 190-pound wide receiver. He was moved to tight end shortly after he joined the team. As he continued to get bigger - he's put on at least 20 pounds in each of the past two off-seasons, through an aggressive pasta-eating program - he became the perfect fullback in offensive coordinator Dana Bible's scheme: a punishing blocker who could catch the ball out of the backfield.
"We really didn't have a fullback-type of guy," O'Brien said. "He is physical enough to be a blocker if you need him to be. He's done a great job of catching the ball for us.
"You have to be able to block and to be able to catch the football. Those are the two biggest criteria we have for fullback in this offense."
He's played in all 28 games since he was a redshirt freshman, making nine starts. In his career, he has caught 21 passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns. He's played his way onto ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper's top junior players at his position.
But he doesn't have an expectation of carrying the football - fullbacks in Bible's system never have and probably never will.
"If there is a running play for a fullback, I don't know about it," Gentry said.
Zach Gentry, at 205 pounds, isn't as big as his brother, and doesn't intend to gain any more weight. But he would like to find his niche, as Taylor did, in the Wolfpack lineup. Right now, he's on the punt team, the kickoff team and the kickoff return team. He is a reserve on the punt coverage team.
His favorite is punt team, because he and Taylor are lined up beside each other.
"I could've gone to a smaller Division I or I-AA team, but we had so much fun playing together in high school, there was nothing better than that," Zach Gentry said. "Not everyone gets a chance to do that on the college level.
"I've always been a State fan, so it was a big thing for me to come here and play."
And the brotherly productivity has been a big thing for the Wolfpack special teams as well.
You may contact Tim Peeler at firstname.lastname@example.org.