Kansas hoping that Combs can help shore up defense
LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Marquel Combs didn't plan on any of this happening.
He didn't plan on becoming one of the nation's top junior college prospects, or having to decide among 50 scholarship offers. He certainly didn't plan on choosing Kansas.
Up until his senior year of high school, Combs didn't even plan on playing football.
"My uncle was like, 'Dude, you're getting too big to be sitting on the couch,"' he explained with his usual good-natured sense of humor. "I'm like, 'What do you mean? I'm just chilling, enjoying myself.' He was like, 'No, I want you to get out and play football."'
Nothing like brutal honesty from the family to get in shape.
Combs eventually was persuaded to give football a shot. He signed up for the team at Hamilton High School in Memphis, Tenn., but found the first weeks to be exactly what he had dreaded.
"I was getting drilled around," he said. "I'm talking about bad. I'm talking about real bad."
When he first met Combs, Hamilton coach DeCorye Hampton wasn't sure how serious the pudgy senior-to-be was about playing football. After all, Combs was about 255 pounds — decent size for a defensive tackle, assuming any of it was muscle. Very little of it was.
Hampton needed Combs, though. He was in his first year coaching at the school, and the team was coming off a winless season. Big bodies in the trenches were at a premium.
"It was an 0-12 team," said Hampton, who eventually settled on Combs at nose tackle. "He started that first game. I can't remember what his grade was but he did a pretty good job."
In fact, Hampton was so impressed by Combs that he made him a team leader even before the first game. Eight ninth-graders received playing time that season, and Hampton needed seniors to take charge.
Combs seized upon the opportunity and finished the season on the all-Metro team. He realized football might be an avenue for him, and spent a year at a prep school before a short stint at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas, where he met current Jayhawks Kevin Short and Rodriguez Coleman.
Combs moved on to Pierce College in California, where he learned how to properly lift weights for the first time. He started to garner some attention, and some scouting agencies rated him the top junior college prospect in the nation. The scholarship offers started to arrive during the winter and last spring, and Combs originally committed to Mississippi.
That failed to work out because of academic issues, so Combs took a visit to Kansas with his Pierce teammate Marcus Jenkins-Moore. But while Jenkins-Moore had already committed to Kansas, Combs hopped on a plane to Lawrence without knowing anything about Jayhawks coach Charlie Weis.
"I'm like, 'Coach Weis? Who is Coach Weis?"' Combs said. "(Jenkins-Moore) was like, 'He won four Super Bowl rings.' I'm like, 'With who? With the Patriots?' Then I did my research on Google, found out everything, and I was like, 'Oh, snap!"'
It's that kind of exuberance that has already endeared Combs to his teammates.
"Off the field he's going to joke with you, he's going to give you a hard time, but as soon as we step in between the lines he goes to work," Jayhawks defensive lineman Keon Stowers said. "He's one of the most serious guys on the field, on the D-line."
Combs said it was the chance to help elevate a suffering program — Kansas went 1-11 last season — back to respectability that made him ultimately choose Kansas. He told coaches he wanted to be the reason a program started winning again, even joking he would kick field goals if needed.
Combs shifted from nose guard to defensive end for his junior year, and he was already topping the depth chart as fall practice began. The Jayhawks are counting on him to help shore up a unit that ranked 113th out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision last year in total defense.
"Did I imagine that he would be what he is now?" asked Hampton, his former high school coach, almost marveling at how far Combs has come. "I can't lie to you. I did not."