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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

Dirk Medema 1 year, 2 months 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.

actorman 1 year, 2 months ago

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

Jim Erickson 1 year, 2 months 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.

Brett McCabe 1 year, 2 months ago

Sound logic that really cannot be argued with.

Along the lines of recruiting, I see that two of the top-rated players from Kansas are strongly considering going to the SEC. I'd like to thank the University of Missouri for drawing the SEC's attention to this area for recruiting purposes.

Within two years, Mizzou's move will widely be recognized as one of the all time boneheaded moves in the history of collegiate athletics.

Rivethead 1 year, 2 months ago

KU has a long, long way to go before it's a "football" school. To start with, "fans" need to stay the entire game and support the team, win or lose. That's never going to happen. We have a fanbase that is spoiled by a basketball program that has taught us that winning is normal and losing is a very unusual occurence.

Brett McCabe 1 year, 2 months ago

Fans follow winners. There is no simpler or truer marketing principle.

texashawk10 1 year, 2 months ago

Fans follow their team no matter what. Fairweather fans follow winners.

NebraskaJayhawk 1 year, 2 months ago

That's true to a point about putting a winning product on the field. Rivethead makes a strong arguement that the KU fanbase is very spoiled because of it's basketball program...especially since the Roy Williams era began and has continued through Self. Year in and year out. I think he makes a strong point that we need to embrace the program no matter what. It's the only way we will ever become a consistant winner is if the fans truely care. You don't see Chicago Cubs fans not going to games based on win/loss.

Dirk Medema 1 year, 2 months ago

"Chicago Cubs fans" - that's a viral infection that really shouldn't be used as an example of normal behavior.

Fandom (normally) is like a bank account. The more positive deposits you have, the more negative withdrawals you can manage without going in the hole. It is the reason Huskers could survive the Calahan years, and 'Bama fans the pre-Saban years. There are big accounts built up over time.

We are years from becoming a football school, though it is good to see CW changing the culture within the team. That is the place it starts. It's really changed when alumni can fondly look back on successful seasons while on the hill. It takes more than 5 years, but you gotta start somewhere.

It can happen.

Unfortunately, we rarely have had back to back successful seasons in FB. We were starting to get there before the Mangino derailment, but even then there was 1 very good year surrounded by several slightly better than average years.

NebraskaJayhawk 1 year, 2 months ago

haha..I like the "viral infection" comment about Cubs fans. I will admit that is a unique sports environment and somewhat of an exaggeration on my part as to how we as fans should support our football team. However, I don't think there's much arguement that our fanbase pretty much stinks at this point when it comes to football.

grisgris 1 year, 2 months ago

Of course, the ice cold beer kegs across the street from the stadium don't encourage anyone to stay in the stands past half time. Beer sales at the game wouldn't hurt attendance.

CrystalJones 1 year, 2 months ago

I don't think we have to become a "football school" in order to have a football program that doesn't stink. Really, nobody is both a football school and a basketball school. You're either one or the other. I don't want to do what K-State did 25 years ago and destroy the b-ball program to become a football school.

Jim Jackson 1 year, 2 months ago

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

Jim Erickson 1 year, 2 months ago

Fans staying the whole game is only going to happen when we have a sustained winner. I completely agree with you and I am not defending the early leaving at all... I just think that may be the case.

Things were a lot better after winning 20 games and 2 bowl games in two years but have since regressed in this regard.

pbouldenv 1 year, 2 months ago

Fans leave football games early at almost all BCS schools. This isn't an unique situation just at KU. KU football culture is much better than people give it credit for. The Reesing years really helped create the buz.

Jim Jackson 1 year, 2 months ago

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

Tony Bandle 1 year, 2 months ago

Maybe UK needs Calipari to switch to football!!

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