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Monday, August 12, 2013

From juco to Jayhawks, KU football newcomers lean on friendship

Kansas University defensive tackle Marquel Combs, left, and linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore, juco teammates at Pierce College, are leaning on each other in their first season at KU. The pair hope to reunite on the field next season, when Jenkins-Moore will return from a knee injury.

Kansas University defensive tackle Marquel Combs, left, and linebacker Marcus Jenkins-Moore, juco teammates at Pierce College, are leaning on each other in their first season at KU. The pair hope to reunite on the field next season, when Jenkins-Moore will return from a knee injury.

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From the time the Kansas University football coaches first began recruiting junior college defensive tackle Marquel Combs, the Pierce College character made it clear that he liked to have fun.

Through humorous tweets and quirky conversations with future teammates, Combs became known as the class clown of KU’s 2013 recruiting haul, the guy who was always good for a funny one-liner or a colorful story.

Not much has changed since he arrived on campus. Before fall camp started — the Jayhawks will go through their first day of two-a-days today — Combs bought a yo-yo from a store on Mass Street, a move he said would help him focus on something other than talking and trying to make people laugh.

“I’ve had that conversation numerous times,” Combs said of instructions from KU coach Charlie Weis to zip it. “It’s just hard. I went and got a yo-yo so now I just be yo-yoing around so I don’t talk as much.”

Although the funny side of Combs (his first name is pronounced Mar-Kwell) is what people have come to expect, he can use his gift of gab for serious moments as well.

Not long after the 6-foot-3, 290-pound Combs arrived in Lawrence, that was put to the test when he learned that Pierce teammate and fellow Jayhawk Marcus Jenkins-Moore had injured his knee and, in all likelihood, would miss the 2013 season. The news momentarily crippled both young men.

“That’s my brother,” Combs said. “Me and him have been through everything together. This is our fourth year being together and making the decision to come here with him was a big thing.”

The feeling was mutual for Jenkins-Moore, a 6-3, 210-pound linebacker who many believed would start for the Jayhawks during his first season in town. But instead of lining up behind his friend, who was ranked by ESPN.com as the top juco player in last year’s class, Jenkins-Moore will spend his days in the training room while trying to give the team a lift through the rest of the 2013 season.

“When it happened, man, I felt it,” said Jenkins-Moore of the knee injury that struck on Day 1 of summer workouts. “When I went down I just knew that I did something crazy. The first thing I did, me and ’Quel sat down and talked about it. We had our moment because he was really disappointed, too.”

That moment, which ran the gamut of emotions from rage and anger to laughter and tears — “I got that part over with already,” Jenkins-Moore said — inspired both players to focus on one thing.

“We just sat there and talked about how we came a long way, ‘How did this happen? How could this happen?’” Jenkins-Moore began. “We had it all planned out and ready to go. I got here. He was here before me. For this to happen to me right away was just crazy. But we talked about how he’s still gotta play and I’ve gotta get better.”

Added Combs: “I just told him to stay strong and that we’re in this together, no matter what. I told him I love him. And that’s it.”

Although the injury momentarily derailed their plans for becoming difference-makers for the KU defense together, both Combs and Jenkins-Moore said they took comfort from knowing that they’ll be reunited on the field next season. Before that time comes, though, both are focused on 2013, even Jenkins-Moore, who just recently began walking with crutches after summer surgery.

“He brings a lot,” Combs said. “Because he’s hungry for it. Without him playing or with him playing, you can just tell that he’s a man who wants to go get it and strives to be the best at what he does and puts in maximum effort for everything.”

Flattered, Jenkins-Moore agreed with assessment and said he was going to put everything he could into the 2013 season as if he were out there playing.

“Definitely,” he said. “Because I’m the type of dude that my teammates can feed off of, and it’s gonna be a great year. Even though I’m not out there with ’em, I’m still with ’em in spirit.”

Slater talks OU

El Camino Community College offensive lineman Pearce Slater on Monday talked with reporters for the first time since arriving in Lawrence. Slater, a late pick-up whom many said would have been ranked as one of the top prospects in the 2014 recruiting class, committed to KU early and then staved off late interest from Oklahoma to make it to Lawrence.

Although the pursuit by the Sooners made many fans and even a few of the coaches sweat, Slater said he was focused on KU throughout the process.

“(Oklahoma’s involvement) was very late so I really couldn’t even get into what they were trying to pitch to me,” the 6-8, 340-pound tackle said. “Because after I chose Kansas, that was it for me. It was very hard because I was being pulled in different directions, but I just had to sit down and make the right decision for me. I felt very comfortable at Kansas and I had built relationships with everyone on the staff and their plans for me coming in and competing right away, that got me.”

Asked why he made the visit to OU in the first place, Slater said even that had a KU slant.

“That was just to reaffirm that Kansas was the place for me,” he said.

Harwell happy to be here

Miami (Ohio) University transfer Nick Harwell, who plans to red-shirt the 2013 season after a bid to graduate from Miami this summer was shot down, has not spent the past few weeks feeling sorry for himself.

Instead, Harwell said he has looked at the chance to come to KU as a blessing of which he plans to take full advantage.

“A lot of people don’t have the opportunity to do what we’re doing, and I’m just thankful for this second opportunity,” he said Monday. “I was always taught never to wear my emotions on my sleeve and to always smile. Even though I have to sit out a year, there’s a reason for that and I just want to be joyous and grateful.

“My focus right now is to mature as a player and as a person. I want to do those things on and off the field that show that what happened in the past is in the past.”

Comments

Ralster Jayhawk 8 months, 1 week ago

Man, we may miss Jenkins-Moore this season. 6-3, 210. Seems like a rangy guy. Would need to Holsopple-up to 230+ for LB, or could be a safety?

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Tony Bandle 8 months, 1 week ago

Maybe UK needs Calipari to switch to football!!

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Jim Jackson 8 months, 1 week ago

Oh and UK had 50,000 fans at their spring game

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Jim Jackson 8 months, 1 week ago

The fans do need to stick around. It is really, really insulting to your team ad Univesity when they leave at halftime.

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Keith Hummel 8 months, 1 week ago

I asked Darrian Miller yesterday via @KU_Football on Twitter "What's the difference btwn this year and two years ago?". His response:

"KU is a football school now, we're building the culture. We're striving for excellence, all going for the same goal, we really believe we've changed this culture."

LOVE IT! I know, I know, it's just talk, but that's the mindset these guys need to have. The "word-of-the day", feel-good nonsense of the past is gone. This is no longer a football school wannabe, this IS a football school. Everything about that old culture has been changed, from the classroom to the practice field. That's the effect these coaches and these recruits are having on this program.

Get ready #JayhawkNation. It's about to get real.

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Keith Hummel 8 months, 1 week ago

Cruel, the way that injury happened to MJM, but after a year of being Holsoppled he will only be that much better. Combs is going to be so much fun to watch. And love what I'm reading about Slater and Harwell. The future is looking very bright at Memorial Stadium.

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Jim Erickson 8 months, 1 week ago

Recruiting is as much about the list of colleges recruiting a guy as it is about the star ranking... Neither are perfect, but both can offer some pretty decent insight. The star rankings tend to dwell more on athleticism and potential while having big time programs offer a player tells me that they are a football player and not just a potential talent.

A few times in the past we have gotten 4 star guys that few big time programs were recruiting, and we quickly saw why. Other times we get guys like Slater who don't have the star ranking we would like to see, but elite programs see a football player in them so that can be indicative of something too.

Bottom line... Just to be safe, we should sign hoards of 5 star talent recruited by elite programs. I feel this is a solid course of action.

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Jim Erickson 8 months, 1 week ago

Bromance at its finest... Well done.

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actorman 8 months, 1 week ago

You gotta love Slater's comments about why he took the trip to OU. That certainly can't hurt in recruiting.

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Dirk Medema 8 months, 1 week ago

After reading Tait's comment that there is a noticeable difference in the physique of players that have been Holsoppled and those that have not, hopefully MJM & Harwell can both embrace the opp to remake their bodies and prepare for a Big12 surge and maybe more.

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