RALEIGH — Taylor Gentry laughed Monday as he recalled the way he first caught the attention of N.C. State's coaching staff in practice.
During the preseason in 2008, Gentry was working on the kickoff team in a noncontact drill. Kickoff returner T.J. Graham didn't see Gentry coming from the side.
Graham was a prized freshman recruit whose track speed would immediately make him one of the ACC's best kick returners. Gentry was a little-known freshman walk-on.
Gentry clobbered Graham, and immediately heard coach Tom O'Brien screaming for Gentry to get off the field.
Incredulous, Gentry's teammates asked him why he had just crushed Graham when the players weren't supposed to be hitting one another.
"I said, 'I'm trying to make him [O'Brien] remember me.' "
Gentry did more than make a memorable first impression with the Wolfpack (3-0), which will play its ACC opener at noon Saturday at Georgia Tech (2-1, 1-0 ACC).
After playing wide receiver at 190 pounds at Leesville Road High in North Raleigh, he earned the starting fullback spot - and a scholarship - as a freshman.
He has played a valuable role on the N.C. State offense and excelled on special teams ever since. The fullback doesn't play every down for the Wolfpack, but Gentry is averaging 22 snaps a game on offense this season.
In a Sept. 16 win over Cincinnati, Gentry caught three passes for 20 yards, including his third career touchdown reception.
"He has really done a great job of catching the football for us," O'Brien said. "That's one thing he can do. He's physical enough to be a blocker if you need him, but one of the things in the way we run the offense is we throw the football [to the fullback]."
Gentry also plays on the kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return units in a key special teams role. He has been joined on all but the punt team by younger brother Zach, a sophomore walk-on who has displayed tenacity similar to Taylor's.
Against Cincinnati, Zach tackled Darrin Williams on the first kickoff that the Bearcats returned. Zach challenged Taylor to match him. Taylor made the tackle on the next kickoff, and Zach followed with a tackle on the kickoff after that.
Zach credited Taylor with showing him how to succeed covering kicks.
"He told me to go down there, you fly down as fast as you can," Zach Gentry said. "Anybody that gets in your way, you knock them down. Anytime you get a chance to make a tackle, you tackle them."
The Gentrys are adding to a significant family legacy at their hometown school. Their father, Rick Gentry, graduated from N.C. State and played football at Summerville (S.C.) High for legend John McKissick, who in 2003 became the first coach ever to win 500 career games.
Their mother, Kathryn Gentry, was a baton twirler with the N.C. State band. A third Gentry child, Caroline, is a junior at Leesville Road who has committed to play women's soccer for the Wolfpack, according to her brothers.
"I've been attending games since I was probably seven years old," Taylor Gentry said. "And I remember when I was a kid, seeing the team run out of the tunnel. I've always said I wanted to play here. I'm kind of living my childhood dream right now."
His chances of playing a meaningful role on any Football Bowl Subdivision team seemed slim when he was a senior at Leesville Road. UNC Pembroke, which plays Division II, was the only school to offer him a scholarship.
He said he had chances to join East Carolina, South Carolina and N.C. State as a preferred walk-on. Logan Bible, the son of Wolfpack offensive coordinator Dana Bible, was Gentry's teammate at Leesville Road, so that connection made him comfortable at N.C. State.
Gentry played in the Shrine Bowl with future teammates such as R.J. Mattes and Brandon Barnes, and that experience made him even more determined to get noticed and earn a scholarship.
It didn't take him long to do both.
"Make them remember you," Gentry said. "That's the way I've always been as a player. You need to make the coaches notice you. That's how to get a spot."
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