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.

Monday, August 12, 2013

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 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.”