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KU football's Marquel Combs fitting in just fine
Wednesday afternoon, Marquel Combs, the Kansas football team's version of Andrew Wiggins, made his first public appearance as a Jayhawk, when he stopped by Meadowlark Estates retirement community with defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt and walk-ons Shane Smith and Austin Barone to spend an hour or so talking football with the residents.
Because Combs, the No. 1 ranked junior-college prospect in the Class of 2013 according to ESPN.com, has not gone through KU's media training he was not made available to the few media members who attended the Football 101 event.
But outside of him answering specific questions about summer workouts, his teammates, the KU defense and how he has adjusted to life in Lawrence since arriving in town earlier this summer, the opportunity to see Combs up-close and in person provided all kinds of hints about where he's at and who he is.
I probably talked to Combs a dozen times or so on the telephone during last winter's recruiting period and I always enjoyed catching up with him and cracking up at his personality. The dude is very likable and he comes across that way even more when you meet him in person.
As he sat at the front of the room and listened to Wyatt, Smith and Barone address the 40 or so folks who attended the event, he paid close attention and listened intently to everything they said. It was almost as if he thought he might learn something or hear something that could help make him (a) a better player or (b) a better leader.
And make no mistake about it. Combs will be a leader on this team. He's the type of guy people flock to naturally. After the formal speaking portion of the event, Combs fielded a number of questions from a line of people who approached him and were hoping to get a closer look.
Through it all, the Memphis native who came to KU after a stint at Pierce College in Los Angeles seemed to genuinely enjoy the interactions and had a smile or a laugh on his face as often as those who came to meet him. KU officials said that, since arriving, Combs has jumped at any opportunity to get out into the community and represent both KU and himself in a positive light.
Beyond the feel-good element of being a face and a personality of which KU fans can be proud, the most football-relevant aspect of Wednesday's appearance came through a quick glance at the defensive tackle's physical make-up.
Decked out in red-and-blue striped KU socks with Jayhawks on them, Combs looked like a man in solid shape. When he signed with KU back in December, the 6-foot-3 Combs weighed nearly 320 pounds. Wednesday, he shared with the group that he now weighed 290 pounds — down 6 or 7 from when he reported to campus — and he looked every bit as fit and trim as that sounds.
Like many KU football players who have enjoyed total-body transformations during the past year and a half, Combs credited KU strength coach Scott Holsopple for much of his success. But it was not just a tip of his cap to Holsopple for teaching him how to drop the weight and tone up, it also was an explanation that his fear of the consequences if he were not able to handle Holsopple's workouts was what truly motivated him.
“When I came in, I wanted to drop some weight so I could make Holsopple's runs,” Combs said. “The summer's been pretty cool. I enjoy being around all my teammates and working with the strength staff. The most important thing was getting in better shape than I was and now I'm making all my runs.”
Combs said he typically lifts in the 6 a.m. group — there also are 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. lifting groups — and emphasized that he did not mind the early wake-up call.
“I like to get it over with and then go get a nice meal,” he said. “I'm just here to help get this program turned around and, basically, just win.”
After introducing himself as one of the more highly recruited juco prospects in the country, Combs received a round of applause from the residents. He paused, shrugged his shoulders and said with a humble laugh, “It's whatever.” The room responded by joining him in laughter.
It seems safe to say that Combs still projects primarily as an explosive presence on the interior of the defensive line. But if he continues to trim down and can add even more of a burst to his already active style, you can't help but wonder about the possibilities of playing him all over the D-Line, something that would benefit KU and defensive coordinator Dave Campo tremendously given the recent dismissal of edge rusher Chris Martin.
But that may be getting ahead of things too far. For now, this much we know about Combs: He's a good dude, with a good heart and a great personality, who seems to be perfectly suited to be at least one of the faces of Charlie Weis' second KU team. He reported to campus in good shape has made even more strides since arriving and already is settling into some kind of role as one of this team's many leaders.
Sure, I was bummed that I couldn't officially interview Combs on Wednesday afternoon. But after typing this up, it seems like I didn't really need to.
Let's hope that media training only enhances his already outstanding disposition.