By Don Ogle 

Potter's Combs an inaugural 8 Man Coaches Hall of Fame inductee

 

June 30, 2017

Al Combs

To many, he was simply “Coach.” To others, “Mr. Combs.” But to all within the Potter community, Al Combs was for many years held in high regard, both within the confines of the school and in the community.

And now, the regard Coach Combs held has landed him in the Nebraska Eight Man Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Combs, who coached at Potter High School for 20 years, from 1958 to 1978, was the first man named to the Hall of Fame during halftime ceremonies at the Sertoma Eight Man Football All Star Game in Hastings June 17. By coincidence, Combs was also the assistant coach for the west at the very first Eight Man All Star game in 1978.

The ride began when Combs, working the wheat harvest to pay his way through college, found out there was an opening for a math teacher in Potter. At that time he also accepted the football coaching position, fulfilling a long-time dream.

The opportunity to coach was one inspired by the teachings of his own high school coach, Oklahoma legend Joe Ross, who instilled not only a love for football, but impacted his approach to life as well.

In fact, as a hall of famer, Combs downplays his own part in the honor, instead shifting the credit to Ross, and the Potter High Players.

“Without them, this wouldn’t have happened,” Combs said. Particularly of the players, “they are the ones who paid the price.”

Combs said Ross made the impact with his caring and teaching of his players not just as players, but also as young men.

“It was right after the war, and a lot of our players didn’t have fathers,” Combs said. “Mr. Ross was that father figure. He taught us right from wrong, and how to work hard at whatever we did.”

When he went into coaching at Potter, that give-it-all attitude helped the new coach as he learned essentially a new game.

“I had no idea what an eight man football team looked like,” Combs said. But he dug in with the tenacity learned from Ross to give it his best shot.

Helping in those early years was an old friend who also understood the hard work it would take to succeed. In 1960, Combs was joined by Lloyd Ray, who had been a teammate in both high school and college. Ray came as a science teacher and for four years joined his old teammate on the field to help build the school’s football program.


And it worked. Potter won the conference championship three years running, beginning with the 1960 season.

Even after Ray moved away (taking the school’s popular kindergarten teacher away as his bride), Combs continued to build on the solid foundation of the early years. When the league changed from the Lodgepole Valley Association to the Minuteman Activities Conference, Combs’ Coyotes continued their success, winning the conference championship 14 times.


By the time Combs closed out his coaching career in 1978, his teams amassed a record of 146 wins, 27 losses and five ties. In honor of their coach, the community placed his name on its field, and athletes have played on Combs Field ever since.

While he’s proud of those accomplishments, one gets the sense from Combs that they are secondary.

“It’s not about the x’s and o’s,” Combs says. “It’s about the Jerrys and Joes.”

Following the teachings of Coach Ross, Combs set out each year not wanting to build a football team, but solid men who would be of value to their community beyond the field.

By the evidence of a recent conversation with one of his former players, Combs succeeded. In that conversation, the former player told him “some of the most important things you taught us in football had nothing to do with football.”

“That’s what’s important,” Combs said. “My hope is that I was able to impact their lives the way Coach Ross did mine.”

Combs’ impact was evident at the Hall of Fame ceremony, where he was joined not only by his blood kin, but also by nearly 20 members of his football family, former players who played under him over the years.

That was appropriate in Combs’ mind.

“It was the kids who put me in the Hall of Fame,” he said, tearing up lightly. “They’re the ones who deserved to be there.”

Don Ogle / Sun-Telegraph

Former Potter football coach Al Combs was honored as the first man to be inducted into the Nebraska 8 Man Football Coaches Association Hall of fame. For Combs, that was almost as big an honor as having nearly 20 former players attend the ceremony.

 
 

Reader Comments
(1)

Del writes:

Coach Combs was a great influence on my life, even though I never had him for a coach, I had him as a teacher. I graduated in 1964 as the 600th graduate of the Potter school system. Thanks Coach, Del.

 
 
 

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