- Erik McKinney, ESPN Staff Writer
Junior college defensive tackle Marquel Combs (Woodland Hills, Calif./Pierce College) has plenty of college programs remaining under consideration, but before his official visit to Washington State this past weekend, he didn't expect the Cougars to be such a significant player.
"That trip came out better than I thought," Combs said. "The Apple Cup was a really good game and a lot of players stepped up. I got to charge the field when they won and I've never gotten to do that before."
Combs, 6-foot-3 and 310 pounds, was committed to Mississippi early in the recruiting process, but opened his recruitment up and is still considering a list of schools that includes Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Maryland, Michigan State, Oregon State, Texas Tech and Washington State. As of Sunday night, Combs still seemed surprised that Washington State made such an impact.
"I did not think that," Combs said when asked if he thought the visit would go as well as it did. "When I went and saw everything, it really blew my mind. I'm really shocked by all this, but it felt like home -- like I could be myself there."
One of the top junior college defensive line prospects in the country, Combs, originally from Memphis, Tenn., said that comfort level was the biggest thing he took away from the trip.
"Vince Mayle (Rocklin, Calif./Sierra College) was there and he's already committed to Washington State," Combs said. "We enjoyed ourselves. We got to hang out with the coaches for a long time. They're really down to earth. To me, they had it like they were from down South. They were cool and down to earth."
With official visits to Mississippi, Kansas and Washington State already crossed off, Combs will take an official visit to Kansas State next weekend, then will choose from Iowa State, Maryland and Oregon State for his final visit. Oddly enough, Kansas State's terrific success on the field this season could hurt them a bit when it comes to the chances of signing Combs -- although that certainly isn't written in stone.
"I'm not going to go to a top-dog program," Combs said. "I want to be a reason why the program I go to becomes a top dog. I'm not too big on schools like USC, Alabama and LSU. I've picked out a few things I'm looking for, like coaches, players, the atmosphere, how loyal the fans are and how the people are that you just meet on the street, because that gives you a good sense of the area."
Junior college signing day is Dec. 19, and Combs said his decision will come then. Before that, coaches will make their in-home visits, but Combs won't be present for any of them. Combs wants to give his mother, still in Memphis, an opportunity to meet the coaches from the schools recruiting him. Beginning with a visit from Kansas head coach Charlie Weis and assistant coach Jeff Blasko on Dec. 3, Combs said she will also likely receive visits in early December from Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder and assistant coach Mo Latimore, Washington State head coach Mike Leach and assistant coach Dennis Simmons, as well as Oregon State head coach Mike Riley.
"My mom is just like me -- she has a cool personality," Combs said. "I want to give her a chance to meet them, because she knows who will be a good fit for me."