ANN ARBOR, Michigan — Last January, University of Michigan offensive lineman Andrew Gentry was asked to serve as the first counselor of a Latter-day Saint young single adult ward bishopric.
A counselor assists the bishop as he presides over a local congregation.
The call came as a bit of a shock, Gentry said, but he was willing and committed to serving the Lord. The 6-foot-7, 327-pound sophomore opted not to tell his coaches about his new religious responsibility because he didn’t want them to worry that it would take time away from football.
“He saw me and pulled me aside. He’s like, ‘I saw this article about you. You are in some bishopbic? What is a bishopbic?’
“‘Oh, you mean bishopric,’ and I explained it to him,” Gentry said. “Coach Harbaugh was so excited and really cool about it.”
Harbaugh followed up by asking Gentry how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is doing in Ann Arbor. Gentry said the work was going well.
“He’s like, ‘There is always room for more, go find more,’ which was awesome,” Gentry said. “Coach Harbaugh himself is a religious man and has always been supportive of my faith, but it was a pretty funny conversation to have.”
It’s one example of how football and faith have come together for Gentry during his time at Michigan, and the overall experience continues to strengthen his testimony of the gospel.
“When I came in, I decided I don’t want [my faith] to ever be something I am ashamed of. I want people to know that is who I am,” he told the Church News in an interview on Nov 5. “And that is who people do know me as — a returned missionary and member of the Church of Jesus Christ.”
‘This is what I love’
Athletics and competition run deep in Gentry’s family.
His grandfather, Lowell Madsen, played on BYU’s offensive line in the early 1950s. His father, Todd Gentry, played basketball at BYU and Utah State. His brother, J.T. Gentry, played football at BYU. His sister, Elizabeth Gentry, recently signed to play basketball at Creighton. An uncle, Michael Madsen, also played football at BYU.
Andrew played both sports at a young age until he realized he was 60 pounds heavier and a foot taller than everyone else. He had an epiphany.
“Running up and down the court is tiring. I can push guys around a lot easier in football,” he said.
During a fifth-grade championship game, Gentry was playing on the defensive line when he intercepted a screen pass with one hand and returned it for a touchdown. Something about the experience changed him.
“Before that, I was timid, I didn’t want to hurt anybody,” he said. “It was like a switch flipped — ‘Wow, sports can be a lot of fun when you are good at them.’”
By his freshman year of high school, Gentry was 6-foot-6 and weighed 265 pounds. He still liked basketball — he’s a big fan of the Denver Nuggets — but realized he was made to play football.
“This is what I love and I’m pretty good at it,” he said. “I think I can make a future out of it.”
Gentry was a four-year varsity starter and became the first in his school’s history to win the Denver Post Gold Helmet Award, an honor given annually to the state’s top player.
He accomplished this while attending early morning seminary and taking several advanced-placement courses. He drew daily inspiration from a poster his mother hung in his bedroom that also set high expectations: “Excellence in spirituality, scholastics and sports.”
“My parents have definitely been the two most influential people in my life growing up,” he said.
Blessings of a mission
Before Gentry dreamed of playing college football, serving a Latter-day Saint mission was always at the forefront. He never wavered in that decision or hid his plans from recruiters, even though it cost him scholarship offers at some big-time programs around the country.
Gentry was called to the Argentina Salta Mission but was reassigned during the COVID-19 pandemic to the Utah Orem Mission, where he taught the gospel in Spanish.
“For me, it was never a question,” he said. “Did I ever doubt that it was the right decision? No, I never did. It has blessed me in more ways than I can count. I’ll eternally be grateful that I made that decision to serve a mission.”
Along with the spiritual benefits, a good day-to-day routine has helped Gentry to navigate a rigorous schedule at Michigan. As he did on the mission, Gentry does his best to get up each day by 6:30 a.m. and go to bed by 10:30 p.m.
He makes time each morning for prayer and scripture study, then his daily and weekly schedule includes classes, football meetings, weight training, practice and games on the weekend, as well as school work and Church service. When he was called to the bishopric, the stake president encouraged him to do his best and trust in the Lord. Gentry has felt heavenly support on several occasions.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much spare time for a social life. Gentry admitted he hasn’t been on a legitimate date since July. Maybe after the season, he said.
“It’s having the structure,” he said. “My mission helped me prepare for what was coming. I don’t think I could have handled everything that I have going on in my life right now had I not had the mission first to teach me how to balance things, how to plan things, how to do what’s most important first. And sometimes you have to let the other, less-important things go.”
Spiritually, Gentry’s mission taught him to rely on the Lord.
“Prayers and scripture study are a must every day,” he said. “Having that foundation that I built on my mission ... relying on the Lord and putting the spiritual things first has been a huge blessing for me.”
While striving to stay close to the Lord, one of Gentry’s main goals now is to become a great football player and pursue an opportunity to play in the NFL. He draws inspiration from Denver Broncos’ left tackle Garett Bolles, who served in the Colorado Denver Mission.
“It’s pretty rare to see an offensive lineman who served a mission go on to have a successful career in the NFL. Garett is one of them,” he said. “He’s a big inspiration to me.”
‘People are watching you’
College football and faith came together in a profound way the first time that Gentry suited up in the maize and blue and ran onto the field in front of nearly 110,000 cheering fans at Michigan Stadium, more commonly known as “The Big House.”
On the football side, the highly recruited lineman from Littleton, Colorado, remembers the goosebumps, taking in the seemingly endless rows and rows of people, and the incredible feeling of “pandemonium” pulsating through the stadium as he sprinted to touch the banner at midfield.
“It’s something that only Michigan football does, the way we run out of the tunnel and slap the banner — it’s been history for generations,” Gentry said. “Being a piece of history is one of the really cool things as well. We have quotes in our locker room from Tom Brady — ‘You guys are the ones that are lucky enough to play for Michigan.’ It’s pretty surreal having that experience.”
At the same time, as a Michigan football player, he realized all those people will be watching him for another reason — his faith.
“A lot of people know I’m a member of the Church. People are always watching you. There are always cameras on you. I can’t do anything on my end that would leave anybody questioning, ‘Why did he say that? Why did he do that? Isn’t he supposed to be living his life differently?’” Gentry said. “It’s being your best example.”
‘Best of the best’
This season the Wolverines are 11-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation. The school became the first program in the history of college football to reach 1,000 wins with its 31-24 victory at Maryland on Nov. 18.
As one of the top programs in the country, Michigan is loaded with talent and depth on the offensive line. The team’s best six or seven offensive linemen are expected to be selected in the next NFL draft.
Even with his massive stature and more than a year of training since his mission, Gentry is battling for playing time against more than 20 other offensive linemen in the program. He currently works with the second and third teams but has seen limited action and consistently plays on special teams, according to Sherrone Moore, the team’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
“It’s the best of the best, competing against the best competition in the country every week,” Moore said. “It’s a very high standard to be part of this group.”
The stiff competition has been Gentry’s biggest challenge at Michigan, but he also knows its good for him.
“You are learning from some of the best offensive linemen in the country, but at the same time it’s tough. Patience, I think, is the best word to describe it,” he said. “I have worked as hard as I can, and I’ve made good strides. Every day is a competition.”
The team is pleased with Gentry’s work ethic and progress since his mission and like what he brings to the program. Moore says the “sky is the limit” for him as he continues to develop his body, flexibility and mobility. Gentry is the first Latter-day Saint Moore has ever coached, and “It’s been a joy,” the coach said.
“Andrew is always going to do the right thing — on and off the field — and he’s always got a smile on his face. He’s always positive. We think he’s going to be a really good player down the road as he keeps working. He’s got a drive and work ethic to him to never stop, and he does it all the right way. I am just happy that we have him,” Moore said.
While competing for playing time, Gentry has embraced every opportunity to share his faith.
“I try hard just to live my faith in every way that I can,” he said. “I’m not perfect at it and I make mistakes, but I try really hard to be a good example, a good light to other people. I think that’s the best way that you can live your life and share the gospel.”
Along with commonly asked questions about polygamy and why he doesn’t drink coffee — he is also quick to teach about the correct name of the Church — there have been a lot of genuine conversations, such as where do loved ones go in the afterlife and questions about his mission. They love his mission stories.
When the Wolverines were at Michigan State in late October, Gentry said one religiously minded teammate “had been doing his research” and had several sincere questions about Joseph Smith and the origins of the Church, sparking a good conversation.
Another teammate, fellow Michigan offensive lineman Noah Stewart, said he and his buddy “Gentsch,” — also known in the locker room as “Elder Gentry” — have engaged in conversations about the Church almost every day. Stewart said his Latter-day Saint friend inspired him to become a practicing Christian again.
“You know the term, ‘Walking encyclopedia?’ He is a walking Book of Mormon and Bible,” Stewart said. “Any question I ask, immediately he’s got the answer. I love to ask him questions, pick his brain, what they believe, what they don’t believe, all that stuff.”
Since they met in May 2022, Stewart has attended Latter-day Saint church services with Gentry, and Gentry has attended Stewart’s Christian church. Other teammates have also attended church meetings with Gentry.
Before Michigan played TCU in the College Football Playoff last year, Gentry spent Christmas with Stewart’s family. On Christmas Eve, Gentry read the Christmas story from Luke 2, which “was awesome,” Stewart said.
“Around the team, a lot of people consider him a kind guy, very strong and a good football player ... but what really separates him is his faith, and we all like him for that,” Stewart said.
On the Sunday morning following Michigan’s 41-13 victory over Purdue on Nov. 4, Gentry made a routine stop at Michigan football’s Schembechler Hall. Outside of an injury check-in, players typically get Sundays off during the season, which allows Gentry to attend his Church meetings.
“It’s the reset for the week, because the week gets crazy,” Gentry said. “To focus on the Savior and not worry about anything else has definitely been a huge blessing in my life. ... It really does provide you with that rest.”
After a five-minute drive across campus, Gentry parked his truck in a parking garage across the street from the Ann Arbor Institute of Religion. Dressed in suit and tie with scriptures and tablet in hand, Gentry gave a brief history of the institute building. “It’s an old frat house that was burned down,” he said.
Once inside the foyer, it’s all hellos and handshakes because he’s now just Brother Gentry. All the ward members like him because he is always kind and friendly, and they wonder how he manages everything in his life.
“Somebody like that could be really high and mighty about themselves, but he is super down to earth,” said John Nixon. “Football reigns supreme here in Ann Arbor. There are a lot of high expectations for the football team. Andrew has big shoulders and handles it really well.”
Tallen Christensen, a sophomore in the Michigan School of Kinesiology who also serves as the institute’s student president, agreed.
“On the field, he’s a beast. As a person, he has a positive attitude and is fun to be around,” Christensen said. “[In the ward], he has a powerful presence and voice. People really respect him.”
Darci Billmire, another ward member, said, “I know the demands of being a student-athlete are high, and add on top of that a demanding calling. It goes to show the way the Lord provides a way for us to fulfill our callings through the enabling power of the Christ’s Atonement. Andrew is a great example of that and carries it well through his testimony and missionary efforts.”
Full-time missionaries serving on campus tell Gentry that everyone believes this is Michigan’s year to win a national championship.
“I mean, I sure hope so,” Gentry says. “So how is the work going for you guys?”
Gentry enjoys talking football at Church but adds that he never wants to be a distraction from the true purpose of Church — worshiping Jesus Christ.
Following sacrament meeting, Gentry met and welcomed a nonmember visiting for the first time. Santos Oliver, a student at nearby Eastern Michigan University with aspirations of trying out for its football team, was impressed by his new friend.
“I feel like it’s great that an athlete like him has faith in God the way that he does,” Oliver said.