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Overlooked, Doubted but Hungry: The Story of Tanner Gentry

Tanner Gentry has never been a big name to any casual football fan, but the fourth-year wide receiver is ready to make an impact for the Bills.

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Roughly a year ago, it all seemed over for Tanner Gentry. After missing the start of the XFL season with a high ankle sprain, the former Wyoming wide receiver was ready to show the world what he could do. As fate would have it, Gentry never got the opportunity he so desperately wanted. The Coronavirus Pandemic would begin and not only pause all sports, but lead to the fall of the XFL. Facing long odds was not something new for Gentry, as he has always been overlooked and doubted.

Beginning in high school, he was overlooked. Coming out of Grandview High School in Aurora, Colorado, Gentry would receive just two scholarship offers to play football. They were the Air Force Academy and Wyoming.

“I felt like a had a really good junior and senior year,” Gentry said, “The offers just didn’t show for it.”

Gentry, a two-star recruit, had no choice but to play at Wyoming, as, being a wide receiver, he knew Air Force’s triple-option offense would not fully utilize his abilities. Regardless, Gentry was thankful to receive a scholarship and fulfill his childhood dream.

“I just wanted that D-1 scholarship,” Gentry said, “I just wanted somewhere to go play and compete.”

Sep 19, 2015; Pullman, WA, USA; Wyoming Cowboys wide receiver Tanner Gentry (4) celebrates a touchdown against the Washington State Cougars during the first half at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

In his first two seasons at Wyoming, Gentry would play a role in the offense, putting up a modest 71 receptions, 811 yards, and two touchdowns. Going into his junior year, Gentry was ready to be the go-to receiver in the offense. At the start of the season, it looked like he would be. Through the first seven games, Gentry was the Cowboys’ leading receiver with 37 receptions, 678 yards, and four touchdowns. Once again, things wouldn’t bounce Gentry’s way.

While diving for a pass, the cornerback defending Gentry landed on top of him. The impact caused him to separate his AC Joint, cutting his season short. Although it was a tough blow for Gentry, the time he was out recovering may have been a blessing.

There was another player who was recovering from an injury. A relatively unknown quarterback phenom, who would be about to put the football world on notice, Josh Allen.

“That’s when we started to get the closest,” Gentry said, “We were both down… we just tried to stick together… that off-season we got real close and started to put the work in together.”

In 2016, Gentry and Allen would connect time and time again. Gentry caught 72 reception for 1,326 yards and 14 touchdowns. He led the Mountain West Conference in both receiving yards and touchdown receptions and was named second-team all conference at wide receiver.

After a breakout senior season Gentry began to prepare for the draft. Going into the off-season, he felt he set himself up pretty well for the draft process. Of course, Gentry would be overlooked again as he didn’t receive an invite to the scouting combine. Yet, Gentry didn’t let it phase him as he still had his pro-day to prove to scouts how good he was.

Aug 30, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Tanner Gentry (19) attempt to make a catch against Buffalo Bills defensive back Ryan Carter (46) during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Gentry said he had a good pro-day and received a lot of good feedback from the scouts that were present in Laramie, Wyoming. Following his pro-day, Gentry talked to his agent who felt that he would be drafted on day three. Regardless of where he would be drafted, Gentry and his agent both knew he would at least get a chance to prove he belongs in the NFL. Despite his stats, size, and testing numbers (standing at 6’2″, 210 lbs. and ran in the 4.4’s), some of the pre-draft scouting reports used narratives often associated with white wide receivers.

“I’ve heard it all,” Gentry said, “Possession receiver, deceptively fast, not athletic, I’ve heard it all.” Gentry was even compared to Wes Welker, a 5’8″ slot receiver; who was a completely different player from him. Yet, instead of getting upset over it, Gentry just laughed it off and used it as motivation to prove the doubters wrong.

Gentry was with his family throughout the draft as everyone watched eagerly to see where Gentry would get drafted. On day three, Gentry started to believe that maybe he would be drafted. During the draft coverage, he watched a segment about Allen and the quarterbacks for the 2018 draft. The analyst started to talk about Gentry, saying they believed he could be taken in the next few rounds. However, Gentry would never hear his name called.

“I was a little disappointed,” Gentry said, “Honestly it was pretty motivating, I’ve been doubted my whole life.”

Aug 27, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Tanner Gentry (19) celebrates with cornerback Sherrick McManis (27) against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Gentry would be signed as an undrafted free agent with Chicago Bears. He would show some flashes in the preseason, recording over 70 yards and a touchdown. Despite impressing the coaching staff throughout training camp, Gentry would end up on the practice squad. For the next two seasons, Gentry would bounce between Chicago’s practice squad and active roster; only appearing in four games, catching three passes for 35 yards. Eventually, Gentry would find himself as a free agent at the end of the 2019 season.

Gentry would then sign with the New York Guardians of the XFL. However, he would never play a snap due to injury and the league’s eventual shut down after the Covid outbreak. Fast forward to right before the 2020 NFL Playoffs, where Gentry would join Buffalo’s practice squad, reuniting with Allen.

“I know Josh [Allen] had a little bit to do with it,” Gentry said, “The fact that they brought me on and gave me a chance to even get me in the door and show what I can do, it means the world to me and I’m ready to make the most of it.”

Gentry clearly made enough of an impact in his brief stint on the practice squad to stick around as the Bills signed him to a future/reserve contract for the 2021 season.

LAS VEGAS, NV – NOVEMBER 12: Wide receiver Tanner Gentry #4 of the Wyoming Cowboys catches a 50-yard pass against defensive back Kenny Keys #44 of the UNLV Rebels during their game at Sam Boyd Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

“There giving me a chance to compete for a job, compete for a spot,” Gentry said. “I’m going to go out there and earn everything.”

Gentry is excited for the opportunity the Bills have given him; to catch passes from Allen again, this time on a team that was a game away from the Super Bowl. It also gives him another chance to prove all the doubters wrong. As the 26-year-old Gentry continues to work hard and get ready for what will be a crucial off-season, he’s got a message for Bills fans.

“You’re about to get a dude who competes every single play,” Gentry said, “I’m going to make plays, I’m going to be a great teammate, I’m going to fight hard and we’re going to do everything we can to bring a championship to Buffalo.”

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