Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bison tailback very fast on his feet

Coombs puts up huge numbers in just three quarters

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IT'S a big, fat, juicy number -- 223 yards rushing -- for any running back busting through holes anywhere on the planet, Anthony Coombs of the University of Manitoba Bisons included.

There's a couple of tales behind that 223 total, though, that really put Coombs' handiwork in last week's win over Alberta in perspective...

First, the basic math:

Coombs' numbers, which included two touchdowns, came in just three quarters of work in Manitoba's victory and on just 16 carries. Just to hammer home his dominance -- which earned him Canada West Offensive Player of the Week honours -- he added a 37-yard receiving score. The 223 yards was the eighth-highest total in Bison history and, naturally, left everyone wondering one thing: what if the third-year running back had actually finished the game?

"Some people have been talking about that," said Coombs with a smile this week. "My goal would have been to break the (Bison) record of 308 (set by Dominic Zagari in 1995). Getting over 300 would have been cool.

BISONS (1-0) vs. HUSKIES (1-0)

TODAY

Kickoff: 5 p.m., Investors Group Field.

The matchup: Manitoba is ranked 10th in the country; Saskatchwewan 9th.

TV: Shaw TV's Game of the Week.

"I understand coming out of the game, of course, because the win was the most important thing. This is a special team and I really think we can do great things this year."

Here's the other story behind that 223-yard total:

When Bisons head coach Brian Dobie made his first recruiting trip to Coombs' household back in his high school days while leading the Winnipeg High School Football League in rushing with the Sturgeon Heights Huskies, the sales pitch went something like this: "as a tailback, we think you'd make a helluva corner..."

"I said, 'I'm not telling you we won't give you a shot at tailback, but I really want you to think about corner, and if you start by Year 2 or 3 you might be an All-Canadian.' I was right about him being an all-Canadian," explained Dobie, laughing, "but I was wrong about the position.

"I won't lie, did I see him being an All-Canadian tailback in Year 2 after a red-shirt year? No, I didn't see that. But he saw it. And I know it was a turn-off for him in recruiting when I said that. He got pouty in that meeting with me and his family. It was awkward because I challenged him. I told him not to take it as an insult, but we were just trying to find the best fit for him."

Turns out Dobie didn't really have to make a decision on where Coombs might best fit. Coombs made the decision simple.

"What happened is that winter... is during our workouts every time he got reps at tailback we just kept waiting and saying, 'OK, he can't sustain what he's doing here. There's another great cut, another great run, he just made four more people miss... this kid can't keep it up,' " said Dobie. "But he did.

"We were wowed by him. He didn't whine, he didn't say a word or come into my office. He just made the most out of every rep.

"That, in a nutshell, is Anthony."

Now, understand that if you ask for a minute to talk about one of his troops, Dobie can serve up a half hour on about every single player in Bison brown and gold. But in Coombs, Dobie knows he has something special.

A two-time CIS All-Canadian (first team in 2011, second team in 2012), Dobie raves about his character, leadership and humility even as the awards keep coming. Last year, Coombs was the MVP for Team World at the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) third annual International Bowl -- an honour that earned him a spot in Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd feature.

Ask him about that -- and the fact he's certain to draw attention from CFL teams for next spring's draft -- and Coombs stiff-arms the questions like they were would-be tacklers.

"That kind of stuff... I'll worry about that later," he said. "At my house we do have a bunch of memorabilia. It'd be fun to get to the pros and be able to get even more, and then one day be able to look back and say, 'This is what I did.'

"I try not to get caught up in that but my mom has this big shrine... you know how moms are. It is cool, but I have to be humble about it. The way I look at it, I'm living in the moment, not in the past, and wanting to succeed in the future."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 7, 2013 C4

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