The Wolfpacker

January 2017

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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30 ■ THE WOLFPACKER WHEREARETHEYNOW? more important. They are a wonderful family, highly respected, know how to treat people right and have a strong faith. "They are just an outstanding All-Ameri- can family through and through." In addition to covering wide receivers, Freddie was an outfielder, while Francis was a quarterback and outstanding catcher. They were recruited by football coach Earle Ed- wards and baseball coach Vic Sorrells from Perquimans High School in 1964. They grew up with future Major League All-Star pitcher Jim "Catfish" Hunter, who went straight from Hertford to the Kansas City Athletics. The twins were senior stalwarts for sec- ond-year head coach Sam Esposito when the Wolfpack nine made its first ever trip to the College World Series in 1968. Eventually, Francis' sons, Chris and Ryan, played baseball for the Wolfpack under Ray Tanner and Elliott Avent. Chris was a hard- hitting, hard-throwing first baseman capable of drawing rain with his high-arching home runs, while Ryan, a multisport star at Ra- leigh's Broughton High, became a standout pitcher. Francis pitched many hours of batting prac- tice, umpired many intra-squad games and even coached a summer league team that was mostly comprised of Wolfpack baseball play- ers. If he ever missed one of his son's games in Little League, at Broughton High School or at NC State, they don't remember it. However, Francis never got to continue his football career after he served as the quar- terback of the Wolfpack's freshman team in 1965. That's because the NCAA suspended him from football for a semester for traveling with Hunter on a summer road trip during his rookie season with Athletics. Not allowed to travel with the football team, Francis Combs hitchhiked his way from Raleigh to East Lansing, Mich., for the 1966 season opener against Michigan State. It took him 30 hours, more than a dozen dif- ferent rides and a prolonged walk through the state of West Virginia, but he made it to the stadium just as the Wolfpack team was leaving its Friday afternoon walk-through. The team gave him a standing ovation, head coach Earle Edwards promised him a ride home on the team plane and Weedon gave him a job as a spotter for the Wolfpack Radio Network with announcers Bill Jackson and Wally Ausley. Combs kept that job for 51 seasons, at- tending 598 consecutive Wolfpack games — home, away and neutral —until deciding to end his streak by missing the Nov. 19 game against Miami in Carter-Finley Stadium to go on a family trip to the Virgin Islands with the NC State basketball team. Until then, he had been with 11 head coaches and three play-by-play announcers and saw the Wolfpack win 319, lose 270 and tie nine games since 1966. Getting there wasn't always easy. There were long drives to Florida State and other locations when there wasn't room on the team plane. There were difficult trips home and discussions with security guards. "Francis is very good at talking his way into a stadium," said play-by-play announcer Gary Hahn. Hahn recalled the time that Combs was left behind at Clemson, when the team rushed to get to the Greenville-Spartanburg Airport for the flight home while Combs was still in the postgame media scrum with the Tiger head coach. The team bus left him behind, but Combs convinced a South Carolina Highway Patrol officer to get him to the airport. "And there he was, as we were going through security, waiting for us at the gate," Hahn remembered. There was a game at Boston College a few years back when Francis was too sick to carry his binoculars into the stadium. Son Ryan was going to take his place, but the team phy- sicians gave him some pregame antibiotics, a few IV bags of fluids and enough pain killers to get him through the game. Combs' favorite memory of all those foot- ball games had little impact on salvaging a 3-9 season after which head coach Chuck Amato was let go. He was sitting beside his friend, former Wolfpack quarterback and All-America punter Johnny Evans, on Sept. 24, 2006 against Bos- ton College in Carter-Finley Stadium, when quarterback Daniel Evans, Johnny's son, hit John Dunlap with a game-winning touchdown throw as time expired. Combs knew exactly what the emotions were like. "To be able to sit there with Johnny, know- ing what it is like to see your son do some- thing special in a situation like that — there is nothing that compares to it," recalled Francis. That's probably why the decision to end his remarkable streak of consecutive games wasn't so difficult. Chris Combs, who is now an associate director with the Wolfpack Club, asked his dad to go with his young family to the Virgin Islands to see the NC State men's basketball team play in the Paradise Jam. For years, Francis has worked as a spotter and postgame interviewer for Wolfpack basket- ball games as well. "But you'll have to miss a football game," Chris told his father. Even though Ryan Combs tried to talk his dad out of it, choosing family over football was a no-brainer for Francis. "The Combs family is one of the great NC State families of all time … And, even though they were all are excellent athletes, the kind of people they are is even more important." ■ Wolfpack Club executive director Bobby Purcell Freddie Combs was a key member of the "White Shoes" defense in 1967, sealing the win vs. No. 2 Houston with an interception. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS Francis Combs (center) played both football and baseball as a freshman at NC State before focusing on baseball, which allowed him to be drafted in the 17th round by the New York Yankees in 1969. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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