Mendenhall raves about big-time OT Gentry; UVA adds 4-star LB

EDITOR’S NOTE: Virginia’s top recruit of the Bronco Mendenhall era will be featured during a 20-minute interview on “The Jerry Ratcliffe Show” on Saturday morning, 9-10 a.m., on ESPN-Charlottesville, 102.9 FM, 1450 AM. Also from 11 a.m. until noon at WNTW (Richmond-Tri Cities) on 820 AM and 92.7 FM, as well as from 1-2 p.m. on Sunday at WKQA, 1110 AM Norfolk/Tidewater. The WNTW show is streaming, so you can listen to it anywhere in the nation at its website. If you miss the show it will be available Saturday afternoon on this website.

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: twitter.com

Andrew Gentry could have signed with just about any football powerhouse in the country, but his final choice was ever-improving Virginia.

Forget all that 4-star baloney, forget that he’s 6-foot-8, 310 pounds. This kid is a stud who goes beyond numbers and metrics. The offensive right tackle is a road grader, who paved a way for an offense that rushed for nearly 4,000 yards and 52 touchdowns to Colorado’s 5A state championship game.

“I would say to this point in the classes that we’ve signed at the University of Virginia he is the most skilled and talented and prepared at this level of any player we have signed,” Bronco Mendenhall said. “He is exceptional in every way and the most highly recruited player that I think I’ve ever recruited in terms of numbers of offers, and elite offers and quality of offers.”

Gentry’s list of schools were more than impressive: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Penn State, Oregon, Stanford, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Texas A&M, USC, UCLA, Utah, Wisconsin, Washington State, Clemson, Georgia, Nebraska, Miami, Missouri, Cal, Colorado, Kansas State, Michigan, Arizona and BYU.

His final four: UVA, BYU, Michigan, Stanford. The Cavaliers won out in the end for a number of reasons, including his relationship with the coaching staff, the school’s academic reputation and the fact that his faith wasn’t in the way of his goals.

A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gentry said that his desire to go directly on a two-year church mission right out of high school, delaying his entry into a college program, didn’t sit well with several programs, including a high-profile ACC school (he discusses that further during “The Jerry Ratcliffe Show, see Editor’s Note above).

“His faith is very important to him,” Mendenhall said of Gentry. “Certainly our staff’s faith mattered to him. He wanted to compete for conference championships and values education at a really high level. He has a connection with us that goes beyond football, and so does his family.”

UVA offensive line coach Garrett Tujague developed a strong bond with Gentry and his family. In fact, Tujague’s first meeting with the highly sought after tackle was brief.

Tujague actually waited in the office at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., for four hours in order to just say “Hello,” to Gentry. Because of the rules for that recruiting time frame, the UVA assistant literally could only introduce himself and say hello and goodbye, something that really impressed Gentry that a coach would wait that long for such a brief meeting.

Gentry’s decision came down to the end of the early signing period and set off a celebration in UVA’s McCue Center.

“We certainly hope more of the same come, and I would say that not only in relation to the quality of player, but his values and his focus academically and what his family, who they are and how they raised him,” Mendenhall said. “That’s the ideal, to put all this together at one time.

“It doesn’t diminish the quality of anyone else. It just means in this snapshot of time, the most recognized and probably the highest performing player of any of the classes we brought in or players within the class, he would certainly be that and we’re thrilled.”

While there was excitement surrounding Gentry’s signing, the UVA staff won’t get the benefits of the big man’s presence until 2022. Like his older brother, who plays at BYU, Gentry will go on a two-year LDS mission to an undetermined location.

Because those who participate in the church missions are limited to between 30 and 45 minutes per day of physical exercise, it can be a challenge for an athlete to maintain his fitness. Gentry addressed that in the radio show interview, noting that he normally works out for several hours a day.

Mendenhall, who has tons of experience with players that went on church missions during his decade at BYU, noted that it can be quite an ordeal for the athletes, particularly one of Gentry’s enormous size.

“So he’s 6-7, 300 now (Gentry said during the show that he’s actually 6-8, 310),” Mendenhall said. “I’ve seen players similar to that choose to serve missions for our faith that based on what they’ve served, they come back at 210. I’ve seen others come back at close to 400. I’ve seen others that come back about where they left.

“But knowing that 30 minutes is really what’s allotted per day for physical exercise, that is separate and distinct from the proselytizing. So there isn’t a long amount of time.”

Mendenhall will have his staff send Gentry very specific workout bundles, which require him to be creative.

“It’s hard to pack some of those things around from transfer to transfer, and I’ve sen pictures of young guys working out with a bar with cinder blocks on the end or buckets of water, or just out lifting rocks and throwing them over their shoulder.”

The coach said that advantages of such missions usually include advancing the maturity level upon their completion, their independence, their critical thinking and resilience.

“Many, at least going back to my Brigham Young experience, around 75-percent of the teens spoke foreign languages fluently, so they not only were off away from home for the first time, they were off in other countries speaking languages they didn’t know.”

Mendenhall said he noticed that his players would return more mature and ready for life, and that at BYU between 30 and 40 players were married every year.

“Their life accelerant and their goals become faster and they’re thinking about things a little farther along than what normal first-years would be coming into college,” the coach said.

Then there’s the physical aspect of things.

“And then mindset,” Mendenhall pointed out. “When you’ve been sharing spiritual and significant messages, and then coming back and you’re looking to run into people as hard as you can, there is quite a void there. So sometimes mindset is a chllange between those two things.”

At BYU, Mendenhall said that 85 percent of his teams were return missionairies and that required basically a seven-year workforce planning model.

In his four years thus far at UVA, only three players (including Gentry) have participated in LDS missions including current sophomore starting running back Wayne Taulapapa and freshman linebacker Jairus Satiu.

RECRUITING NOTE:

Virginia Adds Another 4-Star

The Cavaliers announced Friday they have signed outside linebacker Jonathan Horton of Baton Rouge, La. (Scotlandville Magnet HS). Horton is a 4-star prospect according to 247Sports Composite.

Horton chose Virginia over Utah, Baylor, Arizona, Mississippi, Tennessee, Mississippi State, SMU and others. He is a 6-foot-5, 215-pounder who specializes in rushing the passer.

Ironically, Horton also plays basketball at Scotlandville, and one of his teammates is Virginia basketball signee, point guard Reece Beekman.

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