LAWRENCE — One week before fall camp, Marquel Combs went looking for a little help. He had been on campus for nearly a month, talking and texting and making friends — plenty of time for Kansas coach Charlie Weis to get a read on his prize recruit.
By RUSTIN DODD
The Kansas City Star
Here is what Weis learned about Combs, a 6-foot-3, 290-pound defensive end. He is loud and gregarious and funny and thoroughly comfortable with what he is. He is one part Charles Barkley, one part Warren Sapp, all of it dripping with a friendly Memphis drawl. So a short time before the start of fall camp, Weis called in Combs for The Talk, the kind of stuff Combs has been hearing his whole life.
Hey Marquel, we love you. But can you shut up once in a while?
“I’ve had that conversation numerous times,” Combs says.
So Combs headed out, searching for a solution in the silence department. And he apparently found it in a toy store on Massachusetts Street.
“I went and got a yo-yo,” Combs says. “So now I just be yo-yoing around so I don’t talk as much.”
Comb’s yo-yo story is just one part of his burgeoning influence on the KU football program, where he arrived this summer as the unquestioned centerpiece of the “Dream Team” movement, the Combs-created nickname for the Jayhawks’ large junior-college recruiting class.
Affixing the words “Dream Team” anywhere near a Kansas program that has won just six games in the last three years may seem a little ill-advised, of course. But Combs is already accomplishing something that’s been a tough task in Lawrence: He’s making Kansas football fun again.
“The dream team here,” Combs says. “That’s all I can say.”
On the field, Combs profiles as a defensive end who can be just as potent as a pass-rusher and run-stuffer as he is a velvety talker. He was ranked among the top junior-college players in the country and held scholarship offers from close to 50 schools, including Penn State, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Arkansas. But when KU assistant Jeff Blasko began courting Combs at Pierce College in California, he quickly learned that Combs was pondering a master plan.
“I’m like, look,” Combs remembers saying. “I’m trying to build a dream team.”
And that wasn’t all Combs was interested in.
“I wanted to go to a program that was on the rise, or that was sort of losing,” Combs says. “And I wanted to be the reason why their program comes all the way up to the top.”
Combs took to his phone — teammates say that’s his default position, anyway — and began selling friends in the juco ranks on his vision. Texts were exchanged. Tweets were sent. And Combs’ Twitter account, @TheReal_92, became ground-zero for a movement that would eventually include nearly 20 junior-college transfers.
“We just coming in, trying to put KU back where it should be,” Combs says. “Like that Orange Bowl feeling. We want to be the reason why this program came from here all the way to the top. And I think it’s the perfect year to do it.”
During the Jayhawks’ first few days of practice, junior nose tackle Keon Stowers said he was impressed with Combs’ ability to flip the switch into business mode when he stepped on the field.
“As soon as we step between the lines, he goes to work,” Stowers said. “He’s one of the most serious guys on the field.”
That said, it’s quite likely Combs will have another chat with his head coach in the coming days.
“I've let him talk all he wants,” Weis said last week. “But now I want to hear me talk. He’ll probably hear that several times in the next couple of weeks. I’ll let him crank it back up in September, but for the time being, I just want everybody to shut up and go to work.”
Some of the message seems to be seeping in. Hey, he still has the yo-yo somewhere. But on Monday afternoon, as Combs met reporters for the first time, it was clear he was back in his Dream Team-infused element. This is the world he created, and he’s quite comfortable leading the way.
“I can get y’all shirts made,” Combs said. “I’d love to see them in the stands.”
To reach Rustin Dodd, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/rustindodd.