How Jim Harbaugh recruited and landed prized Latter-day Saint recruit — while in the mission field
A very rare recruiting pitch was made in Orem, Utah, this week from the head coach of the blue-blood program
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh had lunch with two white-shirt-and-tie-clad missionaries in Orem’s Brazilian grill Tucanos on Tuesday and it wasn’t to receive a copy of the Book of Mormon.
We are not sure how many servings of the skewered garlic steak Harbaugh ingested.
But Harbaugh did close the deal on one of the nation’s top high school offensive linemen two years ago out of Columbine High in Colorado, four-star 6-foot-8, 300-pound Andrew Gentry, who signed to play at Virginia in the Class of 2020.
Gentry is currently serving as a full-time Spanish-speaking missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Orem Utah Mission. He finishes his two-year mission in May 2022. Gentry was originally called to serve in Argentina but COVID-19 forced a transfer back to the United States and Orem.
To understand how hard it is to get an outside entity to meet a Latter-day Saint missionary in the field in this culture, it is not taken lightly. It would be akin to throwing Frisbees at the Vatican guard — a big distraction.
When Bronco Mendenhall announced he would not be the coach after this season, Gentry’s post-mission plans were turned upside down.
The early national letter of intent signing period is next week. Harbaugh locked down Gentry in person just 24 hours after Gentry announced he’d be going to Ann Arbor after his mission.
Pass the grilled pineapple skewer, please.
BREAKING -- #Michigan has landed a major commitment from Littleton (Colo.) Columbine offensive tackle Andrew Gentry, a former four-star prospect who signed with Virginia as part of the 2020 class. He returns from his church mission this coming spring: https://t.co/cLlBXeoTov pic.twitter.com/XN3ndJN9QL— Blair Angulo (@bangulo) December 8, 2021
To have a college recruiter visit in person and close a recruiting deal with a missionary is almost unheard of. If you have an example, please share it. It is not unusual, however, for schools to send missionaries letters of intent to sign after a year in the field of endeavor.
But for Gentry, last week’s announcement by Mendenhall was a big deal. He had to clarify his college football future. He was about to face a recruiting circus with disruptions and distractions.
Mendenhall’s decision to leave Virginia triggered Gentry’s parents, Todd and Susan, to do something to clarify their son’s scholarship situation.
The Gentrys immediately contacted Mendenhall and discussed obtaining a release from Virginia. They got it. They then contacted two schools that had recruited Andrew out of high school, Michigan and BYU.
While in high school, Andrew Gentry had been recruited by more than 30 schools, including Alabama and Notre Dame. He had narrowed his choice to Virginia, but Michigan was a close second and BYU was important because of his faith and his great-grandfather.
“When we found out about Mendenhall last Thursday, I initiated calls to BYU and Michigan and explained how Andrew needed to make some decisions. We did not want this to become a distraction to his mission and we asked Harbaugh’s and Kalani Sitake’s coaching staffs to please not contact him or recruit him — that I would do the contacting on Monday, his preparation day.
If recruiting missionaries while on their missions is going to become a thing (come on mission presidents, this shouldn't be a thing, lol) then the answer is simple: Send NLIs to the kids on missions after they've been out a year. Stanford already does it.— Jeff Hansen (@rakoto10) December 8, 2021
Latter-day Saint missionaries are allowed one day a week, Monday for Gentry, to do laundry, write letters and catch up with nonproselyting necessities. Todd Gentry emailed his son and explained he would be the point man for him on any decision he made and they needed to talk on the phone. The Gentrys also contacted Orem Utah mission president James Evanson and asked if he would allow Andrew Gentry and a coach to meet in person to solidify an agreement.
Evanson agreed to allow Harbaugh contact if it was not a distraction.
The interruption of a missionary’s duties — even for 90 minutes by a situation like this — is subject to approval by the gatekeeper. In this case, President Evanson.
In another mission with another president, it could have been the same or absolutely forbidden. Evanson apparently believed the meeting was in the best interest of the missionary.
“President Evanson has been phenomenal in helping Andrew navigate what could have been a crazy experience,” said Todd Gentry. “I initiated every conversation with Harbaugh and BYU.”
Andrew Gentry took no time at all to tell his parents he wanted to go to Michigan on Monday. “I contacted Harbaugh and BYU’s coaches and told them of his decision. BYU was great to respect our wishes of not contacting or recruiting our son while on his mission,” said Todd Gentry.
A decision was made that Harbaugh would come to Utah, shake hands with Elder Gentry, look him in the eye, and officially offer him a scholarship. A member of the Latter-day Saints faith on Harbaugh’s staff, former BYU defensive lineman and BYU graduate assistant coach Shaun Nua, would join him.
Todd Gentry knows the manager of Tucanos in Orem and arranged a lunch. “Andrew was literally serving at the Giving Machine when Harbaugh got there. They met for 90 minutes,” dad said.
Even in this rare moment for a coach and a recruit, Elder Gentry and his companion did not let it be just about Michigan football.
According to Todd Gentry, Elder Gentry didn’t present the Michigan coach with a Book of Mormon, but he and his companion did teach him about the comparisons of Christ’s organized church in the New Testament versus today. Harbaugh called Todd Gentry afterward and commented how great it was talking to missionaries and how impressed he was in how sharp and dedicated they are.
Todd Gentry said his son had always been enamored with Virginia and Michigan and has no animosity toward BYU, where Andrew’s older brother JT is currently a senior on the Cougars football team who has played sparingly. “Andrew didn’t have any issues with Jeff Grimes or anyone on the BYU staff when he chose Virginia,” said Todd Gentry.
“JT has had a wonderful time at BYU. You can see him on TV standing next to offensive line coach Darrell Funk, holding a clipboard,” said the father, a former BYU basketball player before transferring to Utah State to finish his college career.
You couldn’t find a recruit with bigger ties to BYU, Utah Valley, Provo and the Latter-day Saints faith than Andrew Gentry.
And that begs the question, why not become a Cougar?
Andrew’s family babysitter was Whitney Wonnacott, now the wife of BYU’s Naismith Award winner Jimmer Fredette, and he is a huge Jimmer fan. Whitney Fredette’s father is an independent sales rep for Todd, who is vice president of sales with Coleman Power Sports II.
Todd Gentry grew up in Orem, where he played high school basketball at Mountain View. His brother Brad, also an MVHS Bruin, is a huge BYU fan and is a stalwart supporter at almost every sporting event.
Elder Gentry’s grandfather, Lowell Madsen, was an all-conference football player for BYU and played with LaVell Edwards at Lincoln High in Orem. A younger sister Elizabeth is a basketball recruit prospect targeted by BYU’s Jeff Judkins, but not yet offered.
The Gentry clan has deep roots in Utah County. Todd and Brad’s parents, Bob and Marilyn, lived in North Orem before moving to Pleasant Grove. Bob, a BYU graduate with advanced degrees, was a high school principal in Provo and Orem and retired Provo School District superintendent. Marilyn had a flower shop for decades on State Street in Orem. Bob and Marilyn’s old Orem home is four blocks from where Elder Gentry currently has an apartment across from the Macey’s grocery store on 800 North.
“He kind of wants to make his own path away from home and away from Provo.” — Todd Gentry on his son’s decision to commit to Michigan rather than BYU
Recently, while attending church at the Orem Timpview Stake Center on 1000 North in Orem, Andrew Gentry was looking at the wood missionary plaques hanging on the wall and was surprised when he saw his father’s plaque with a photo depicting his successful missionary service in the Pennsylvania Harrisburg Mission from 1987-89.
Michigan-bound Gentry is not swayed at all by BYU’s invitation to join the Big 12 nor the momentum of Sitake’s 21-3 record the past two years. He may not even know Michigan’s status with rankings and CFP games. Missionaries are not allowed to browse the internet or watch TV or listen to the radio. If they do, it is rare, usually in the home of a church member or family they teach. It is against mission rules.
“He kind of wants to make his own path away from home and away from Provo,” said his father.
This week, Todd updated Andrew Gentry’s Twitter, an account he told followers he would revisit when he finished his church service. It shows a picture of Gentry in a Wolverines jersey with his statistics, a scripture from the Bible, and describes Andrew as a Wolverine: 6’8” 310lb OT - University of Michigan - 4.33 GPA - 1420 SAT - Utah, Orem Spanish speaking missionary - 1 Samuel 2:30 “For them that honour me I will honour.”
And so there are some cliff notes of what happened this week with a missionary in Orem, Utah, a 24-hour period he can put in his journal. A reporter from Michigan contacted Todd Gentry this week and asked if he could help arrange a visit to Orem to detail what a missionary like Elder Gentry does during a day. Todd believes President Evanson was inspired this week in dealing with his son’s challenges: That media profile may also further the work and the message.
For all we know, the Harbaugh-Gentry meeting might be something historic: To be recruited in person as a missionary by a legendary coach and blue-blood program while still on God’s clock?
This is Michigan football.