LARAMIE – There was a 2016 flashback during Wyoming’s practice on Friday inside War Memorial Stadium.
Gunner Gentry reminded witnesses of what the Pokes’ offense, which has struggled with the forward pass in recent seasons, looked like six years ago when Josh Allen was creating a surreal highlight reel with Gunner’s older brother, Tanner Gentry.
“He made a big-time catch today, which was great,” UW head coach Craig Bohl said of Gunner Gentry. “It was a fade, and he made a great contested play, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Gunner sat in the stands for every game in 2016 as Tanner finished his senior season with 72 receptions for 1,326 yards and 14 touchdowns before starting his NFL career with the Chicago Bears.
Sean Chambers and Levi Williams threw a total of 15 touchdowns last season with Isaiah Neyor catching 12 of them before taking his talents to Texas.
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After the spring game, Bohl said Gentry would be an “X factor” for the Cowboys in 2022, if the 6-foot-3, 202-pound redshirt junior was able to recover from two surgeries.
Gentry tore the patellar tendon in his left knee during spring practice in 2021 and again last September. He hasn’t appeared in a game for the Pokes since the 2020 season when he caught the only touchdown pass thrown by UW during the bizarre pandemic-shortened campaign.
“It was a long process, but I’m glad to finally be over the hump and playing again,” Gentry said. “The (second injury) was an unfortunate event. We were just trying to see what the leg could hold and it wasn’t really ready for the kind of strain we put it through. It just kind of snapped.
“We definitely took a smart approach to the second rehab and made sure we took our time with things. I wasn’t trying to rush it.”
Gentry was cleared to practice in the spring, but was held out as a precaution. He was also taken out of a practice early this fall early due to soreness.
Joshua Cobbs, Wyatt Wieland and Alex Brown accrued experience last season playing in Neyor’s shadow. True freshman Caleb Merritt has been spending some time with the first-team offense.
Everyone in the receiver room was excited to see Gentry make his presence felt in the competition.
“Gunner had a really good catch on the left sideline,” Merritt said. “My favorite part about that is everybody celebrates when somebody makes a play like that. It’s a great culture here.”
Gentry witnessed the chemistry on the 2016 team, which beat rivals Air Force and Colorado State and knocked off then-No. 13 Boise State and then-No. 24 San Diego State during the regular season.
Last fall Gentry watched the home games from a window in the High Altitude Performance Center as the Pokes suffered exasperating losses to Fresno State, New Mexico and Hawaii during a 2-6 MW finish.
“One thing is just staying perseverant,” Gentry said of the perspective gained from his bird’s eye view. “I definitely saw that we could get down on ourselves kind of easy. So just being able to be gritty and keep pushing through and fighting through hard stuff is kind of a big takeaway.”
Neyor was one of 15 players to transfer out of the program from the time the regular season ended until the players began summer workouts with a lot of new faces.
Fall camp has been Gentry’s first opportunity to connect with transfer quarterbacks Andrew Peasley and Evan Svoboda.
“I’ve been sitting out so long that when I get back I’m not looking for personal accolades,” Gentry said of his role. “I just want to make sure that we’re out there trying to win football games. Whatever I have to do out there to help our team get to that point, whether that’s me catching 10 balls a game or going out there and blocking all game, whatever it takes.
“At this point. I’m just really happy to be back and leading the young guys and playing my role.”
Gentry has spent time learning the nuances of the position while training with Tanner, who is currently trying to make the Buffalo Bills’ roster for the third consecutive season.
Little brother has also had opportunities to catch passes from Allen, the Bills’ superstar, during the offseason.
“I’m kind of an honorary member at this point,” Gentry said of Bills Mafia. “It’s cool to see what they’ve done with their careers and the point that they’re at. It helps me to see it’s possible and something I can look at and say I’ve seen the blueprint and know exactly what they did.
“If I can follow it and make sure I do all the right things, I have a shot.”
UW will be a run-first offense as long as Bohl is the head coach, but there is also an emphasis in camp on identifying receivers who can make splash plays in the vertical passing games when the defense loads the box to stop Titus Swen.
Perhaps the offense can strike a balance that will lead to a 2016 throwback season. The Pokes were picked to finish last in the Mountain Division that year and ended up hosting the MW championship game.
“We’ve got a lot of transfers, we lost a lot of old talent, and I think a lot of people are kind of overlooking us and saying, ‘They lost a lot of people and they’re going to be in a rebuild,’” Gentry said. “But we have a lot of talent here that I think could surprise a lot of people. And, chemistry-wise, we’re so much closer than a lot of the teams I’ve been on here.”