Left, Michigan offensive lineman/returned missionary Andrew Gentry (75) protects the line during Wolverines game versus Connecticut. Right, Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh meets with Elder Andrew Gentry in Orem, Utah. (Photos courtesy of U-M Athletics and Andrew Gentry)
Returned missionary Andrew Gentry living his gridiron dreams along the Michigan Wolverine O-Line
Lessons learned in the mission field are serving young lineman well on one of college football’s elite programs.
By Jason Swensen
13 Mar 2023
This time last year, Andrew Gentry was living in Utah County and following up on member referrals, testifying of the Restoration and studying Spanish with his missionary companion.
A lot has happened since then for this returned missionary from Littleton, Colorado.
In the months since his missionary release, the former-Elder Gentry has donned Michigan’s iconic “Maize & Blue” uniform, played in the Big House in front of 100,000-plus Wolverines fans, helped his team defend their Big 10 title, and, finally, play in the College Football Playoffs.
“It has been a crazy experience,” he told Church Ball Magazine. “Coming off my mission and then [immediately playing] college football has been an interesting process. ….But being a part of the Michigan team and having success has been so much fun.”
The 312-pound offensive lineman credits Michigan’s coaches and strength staff for having the patience and capacity to get him back into D1 shape following his two-year layoff from football to serve in the Utah Orem Mission.
“The entire staff did a great job of welcoming me in — and not just throwing me to the wolves and risking getting injured,” he said.
Gentry wishes, of course, that the Wolverines could have pulled out a win in the Dec. 31 CFP Semis (Michigan lost to TCU, 51-45) and advanced to the NCAA title game. “Obviously, we wanted things to end differently, but it was an honor to be on such a great team. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
Following an unexpected path to Ann Arbor
Making football memories at Michigan was not something Gentry anticipated when he finished his prep career at Colorado’s Columbine High School and began his missionary service.
He originally committed to Virginia when the Cavaliers were being coached by fellow Latter-day Saint, Bronco Mendenhall.
When Gentry left for his mission, the Virginia strength and conditioning staff prepared for him a daily, 30-minute daily exercise program that he could perform each day in his missionary apartment.
“So I was able to stay in some sort of shape — but, obviously, you still lose so much fitness.”
He credits the Michigan staff and the Lord for his speedy recovery of “college football” condition. “The fitness came back quickly,” he said. “It was definitely a miracle from the Lord. After dedicating my service to Him, He definitely helped get me back into shape.”
Thanks to lots of hard work, lots of lifting and lots of calories, Gentry has put on about 40 pounds since completing his full-time mission.
Competing at the highest levels of college football demands more than top physical conditioning. Gentry acknowledged that making the mental transition from full-time missionary service to competing in the Big10 was as challenging as the physical transition.
Elder Andrew Gentry, center, served a Spanish-speaking assignment in the Utah Orem Mission before joining the University of Michigan football team. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Gentry)
Gentry credits the daily structure of missionary life for helping him master the discipline needed to be a Wolverine offensive lineman.
“Being on the field and being nasty again was probably the toughest transition for me,” he said. Missionary service had altered his mentality. He remembered having conversations with his parents, Todd and Susan, and wondering if he could rediscover the “meanness” that once came naturally whenever he stepped onto the gridiron.
“But after getting back on the field, [that nastiness] came back to the point where it now feels like it never left,” he said.
A Wolverine visits Orem
In early 2020, Gentry was called to serve in the Argentina Salta Mission. “About three weeks later, the whole world shut down.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gentry began studying Spanish and the missionary lessons through the online MTC. About a week before he concluded his MTC training, he was assigned to the Utah Orem Mission, Spanish-speaking.
He laughed when he opened up the email from the Church’s missionary department and discovered he had been reassigned to the Orem mission. It was his father’s hometown, and his older brother, JT — a former BYU football player — was living in Provo.
But he was also thrilled to know that he would soon be serving the Lord.
“I was just so excited to serve a mission and go wherever the Lord needed me,” he said.
Besides picking up a useful second language, Elder Gentry developed a lasting love for the Latino culture and people.
Elder Elder Andrew Gentry, far left, and his companion, read from the scriptures with a family during his labors in the Utah Orem Mission. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Gentry)
“The Latino people are some of the most humble, kind people you will ever meet,” he said. “They will do anything for you — and they love football, as well.”
Utah County is, of course, Cougar Country — so there were constant reminders of college football wherever Gentry served. “When Saturday afternoons in the fall would come around, I would see everybody going to BYU games. I couldn’t help but wonder about what was going on.
“But at the same time, my whole focus was just on serving the Lord and doing the best I could as a missionary.”
Following the 2021 college football season, Mendenhall stepped down at Virginia — leaving Gentry with a tough decision regarding his own college football future.
He learned Michigan was looking to sign an offensive tackle. Gentry’s family reached out to the Wolverine staff, who remembered Gentry from his high school days. After securing permission from the mission president, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh made a visit to Orem and met with Elder Gentry.
“I committed to Coach Harbaugh right there on the spot,” he said, recalling his unconventional recruiting visit. “I could not be more grateful — and I’m completely sure that the Lord wants me to be here at Michigan. It all worked out how it was supposed to.”
Gentry loves being a Wolverine, and studying at one of the country’s top academic institutions. But he also misses elements of his mission.
“One of the things I miss the most is having an hour each day to study the scriptures,” he said. So he makes a point to wake up 15 minutes early to get in some dedicated, daily gospel study.
“And I obviously miss the missionary opportunities that come from serving the Lord each day and being fully dedicated to that purpose,” he said. “But at the same time, I have found so many opportunities here [in Ann Arbor]. …I’ve had missionary opportunities with different people and with teammates. I’ve had teammates come with me to Church and firesides.”
While the Latter-day Saint community around campus is much smaller than, say, in Utah or Colorado, he still enjoys the fellowship of local Latter-day Saints. “And, of course, everyone here loves Michigan football — so the whole community has been very welcoming to me.”
The frigid temperatures are reminders that it is still late winter in Ann Arbor. But Gentry’s mind frequently wanders to the opening weekend of September — and the kickoff of the 2023 season.
“I’m just looking forward to competing for playing time,” said Gentry, acknowledging the talent stockpiled along the offensive line. “But I’m also looking forward to achieving our team goals: Beating Ohio State. Winning the Big10 again. And then taking the next step forward and winning a national championship.”