Naysayers Singing the Wrong Tune about Justin Combs
August 15th, 2012 By Patrick Green
Justin Combs, pictured, should’ve had many questions surrounding him coming into football camp with the rest of his UCLA freshman recruiting class this summer.
Am I prepared for academic life on the collegiate level? How will I deal with the speed of the college game? What will I do to combat opponents who try to take advantage of my size? Can I compete for time on the field now or will I be redshirted? And, is this a playbook or three volumes of Mark Twain’s lost prose, in Spanish?
Combs himself even entertained a question about how he was dealing with the weather, having come to California from New York.
What the freshman recruit likely didn’t expect to have to address was why he even took the scholarship offer from the Bruins. It’s not a question on what made him select UCLA over Illinois, Iowa, Virginia, and West Virginia. That would be a fair inquiry, weighing Big Ten versus Pac-12, or east coast against west coast.
No, the root of the question is not about football, location, or even academics: strangely enough, it’s about family and finance.
Skeptics came out of the woodworks when Combs’ signing went viral, criticizing the Iona Prep graduate for accepting the scholarship, suggesting that he have his father, Sean “Diddy” Combs, pay his tuition instead, while leaving the scholarship for someone who needs the financial assistance more.
Despite this outcry, Combs chose to keep his scholarship. And shame on him, for doing so.
Who cares if UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vasquez said, “… athletic scholarships are awarded to students strictly on the basis of their athletic and academic ability, and not a student’s financial need.”
Doesn’t Justin Combs know that once your parent has passed through the thresholds of success and cemented a financial legacy that will span generations, your efforts or needs of creating your own path in life cease to exist? We should be reading about Combs hosting expensive yacht parties, concern ourselves with who he’s dating this week, and follow his Twitter postings about a wild night out or his dilemma over which Bentley to drive.
He should be sitting in studios with his mogul father, bossing sound engineers twice his age and telling club bouncers they’ll never work another day in New York City if they don’t let him enter an adult late night venue. Combs should sleep with only the sun as his alarm clock and perhaps wake merely to do an interview with People magazine about what it’s like to be the son of a multimillionaire.
And what’s better, Combs should find a hobby: perhaps Diddy could produce his album, bolstered with features from Drake and Katy Perry; or, by chance Diddy could create a new clothing line and name Justin Combs CEO; or, even better, Diddy could purchase his son a spot on a college football team.
That Diddy doesn’t seem to encourage this path for his son, shame on him.
What we see instead is that in place of a summer ending cruise on a yacht in tropical-like weather, Combs is drowning in sweat underneath his pads in sweltering Los Angeles heat, fighting to make a name for himself under the eyes of head coach Jim Mora and his coaching staff.
This, though, is not a passing phase for the freshman.
Like most kids who love football, Combs has been playing since Pop Warner. But like only a few, Combs’ talent and work ethic led him to a successful high school career at Iona Prep in New York. As quarterback, the 5-foot-7 senior threw for 614 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 196 yards and four scores.
While his numbers in the backfield were efficient, it was in the other backfield where Combs started to gain recognition nationally. In his junior season, Combs picked off seven passes, and during his senior year, the defensive back had 45 tackles, earning All-American honors. Moreover, ESPN had Combs rated as a three-star recruit and the No.7 overall prospect in New York.
In fact, UCLA wasn’t the only major college program impressed by the 5-7, 165-pound lightweight who wasn’t afraid to come up and punish running backs attempting to turn the corner. Combs plays with passion; he plays fearless; and what he lacks in size, he makes up for in his athleticism and knowledge of the game.
And so, in addition to the Bruins, Iowa, Illinois, West Virginia, and Virginia all came knocking. And so instead of sulking over whether to take out the Maybach or the Bentley, Combs was invested in an option between five favorable academic institutions of higher learning.
“I think (Justin) has a tremendous upside,” UCLA defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin said to the Daily Bruin. “Football is very important to him and that’s one thing I love about him. He’s not just the son of a star… he really likes football.”
And he must also have a fondness for the classroom. Unfortunately, many high school recruits battle with the stress of waiting to learn if they’ve even qualified academically to attend an FBS school, or whether the fate of junior college or prep school awaits them instead. Combs had no such burden or last-minute struggles.
So as opposed to waiting for the sun to wake him and to be beckoned for quotes about his lavish lifestyle, Combs works tirelessly in the classroom and on the gridiron, toward his own goals. And for that, he is condemned.
It’s not as if his journey will be easy as it is. He’s undersized and trying to find footing in a veteran-heavy defensive back field. Seniors Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price are not likely to be supplanted. Hester started in 12 games a year ago and is an imposing corner at 6-1, 207 pounds, and, Price, who has 32 starts in his career, stands at 6-2. Many reports have Combs third on the depth chart, which is an indication that the freshman corner might be redshirted this season.
If being a freshman and an underdog physically are not enough hills to climb, it’s a wonder what life would be like for Combs if his teammates knew his father had paid for his education. Folks outside the stadium fences could toast the premise as a grand gesture by the Combs family all they’d like. Inside the locker room, Combs would appear to be nothing more than a token player, one who purchased his way to a Bruin jersey.
He likely wouldn’t be the player senior receiver Jerry Johnson told the Los Angeles Daily News he saw as a teammate.
“I thought he’d be pretty stuck up and conceited since his dad is almost a billionaire,” he said. “But he’s a pretty down-to-earth guy. He’s actually talented. He’s a great competitor. I didn’t expect that. I just figured he’d be spoiled.”
Unbeknownst to Johnson, that’s exactly what many called on Combs to be. Instead of accepting a scholarship he’d rightfully earned, he was encouraged to lean on his father’s purse strings. What message would that have sent the young Combs? What message would that have sent his teammates?
Combs may never get a chance to face USC’s Matt Barkley; he may never even crack the starting lineup for the Bruins. But he seems to have the decision-making abilities to succeed on a greater stage, life. Because had the freshman UCLA student-athlete spurned the scholarship in favor of his father footing the bill, as gaudy as he was in making open field tackles as a prep star, he’d have almost no chance defending that move.
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