His arrival was hyped to the Nth degree and his departure came as quite a surprise. Now former Kansas University defensive tackle Marquel Combs has a new home.
Combs, who last week received his release from KU after deciding to transfer, has joined the Southeastern Louisiana University program, head coach Ron Roberts announced Monday.
Combs, a junior who was the No. 1 ranked junior-college player in the class of 2013 according to ESPN.com, is eligible to play immediately at the FCS school and seems thrilled to have landed at a place where he could play right away.
"I'm very thankful to all the people who have given me support and helped with my decision," Combs said in the SLU release. "I'm grateful to have the opportunity to continue my playing career and studies at Southeastern Louisiana University. I'm excited to be a Lion."
The Memphis native will wear No. 90 at SLU and figures to find playing time immediately.
"We are very excited to have someone of Marquel's talents become a Lion," Roberts said in a release. "In addition to his athletic abilities, he's a high-character young man who is going to be an asset to our program on and off the field."
This ending sure is a far cry from what many expected from Combs just nine months ago. Not only was the 6-foot-3, 300-pound tackle projected to be a cornerstone of KU's rebuilding project, but he also was instrumental in recruiting several other junior-college transfers to KU to join him.
Now, most of them remain and it's Combs who has a new home.
Although there was some speculation when he left that Combs believed he could land at another Div. I program, perhaps even in the powerful SEC, doing so would have derailed his career further because he would have been forced to sit out the 2013 season after transferring anyway.
Combs never found his footing after arriving in Lawrence and could not crack the first string on KU's depth chart. He did not play in KU's first three games and did not even travel to Rice, where KU lost on Sept. 14.
At SLU, Combs joins a program that currently sits 2-2, with losses to TCU and South Dakota State. He is expected to make his Southeastern debut this weekend, when the Lions take on Incarnate Word at 7 p.m. at home.
So defensive tackle Marquel Combs is leaving the Kansas University football program after spending less than four months in Lawrence.
On the surface, the news certainly comes as a surprise, but, a closer look at all that has unfolded during his time at KU provides evidence that we should have seen this coming.
These are the moments that sports writers tend to regret. You spend months hyping up a player you've never seen play who has a big name, a shiny ranking given to him by somebody you don't know and a charming personality only to wind up looking bad when things go south.
The good news in this instance is I think Combs is the one who ends up looking bad here.
I have no issue with an athlete wanting to be and play somewhere he feels comfortable. Maybe, for whatever reason, KU just was not quite what Combs expected it would be. But, at least from where I sit, it sure looks more like that reason is tied strongly to the fact that the former No. 1 ranked juco player in the country according to ESPN.com got here, found out he was going to have to work for his spot and did not really want to do that.
Nearly everything that happened after Combs found that out led to this moment and, although the critics surely will use this as just another reason to laugh at KU coach Charlie Weis and Kansas football, it sure sounds like the program will be stronger and better with Combs playing elsewhere — wherever that may be.
See, Weis' program is not built on entitlement, favoritism and prima donnas. He's said that more than once and, better than that, he's proven it over and over. The best players play. Doesn't matter if you're a walk-on, a has-been or a never was. If you're better than the guy you're competing with, you're on the field. Players respect that. And such an environment tends to produce a locker room full of guys who work their butts off day in and day out because they understand that. No gray areas. No nonsense.
Combs never seemed to get that. Or, if he did, he never seemed to think it applied to him.
Where Combs goes from here is anyone's guess. People with knowledge of Combs' time at KU said the highly-touted defensive tackle was struggling to adjust to KU in more areas than just the playing field, where he dressed but did not play in the season opener and then did not suit up for KU's next two games, including not even traveling to Rice after being pencilled in as a second-stringer and then sent down the red-shirt path.
One national recruiting analyst I spoke to said many teams backed off Combs the first time around because of personality issues and Combs may have a tough time selling himself a second time around after arriving at KU with the hype of a heavyweight title fight and leaving with the sound of a whoopie cushion.
The only question that remains with Combs now is will he wind up becoming the next Brock Berglund, set free to ride off to greener pastures only to never be heard from again? Berglund, by the way, is a sophomore at North Texas — his second school since leaving KU — and has not thrown a pass in a game this season.
Don't be surprised if Combs follows a similar path.
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.