Senior running back Robert Combs has a love and inspiration for the game that springs directly from his mother and father.
Robert played his final football season for the Bonney Lake Panthers Nov. 15 and he credits his dad as the reason he became interested in playing sports. He said his dad coached him for five years when he played Auburn Junior Football.
Robert’s dad died when they were about to enter their sixth year together, he said.
“I’ve always had a love for the game but my dad definitely has something to do with the passion that burns in me for the game,” Robert said.
Robert’s mother, Tria Combs, said nothing compares to the excitement, emotion and pride that comes from watching him play.
“I’m really proud to be Robert’s mom,” she said.
Robert showed early on that he would be an athlete. Tria said his first word was ball.
He has been playing football since he was 7 years old. Before he started playing football, he played soccer and started playing baseball when he was 9 years old, he said.
Robert played baseball for seven years but took a break from it. He added that he plans to start playing again in the spring.
“He proved to be quite successful (at baseball) but his first love has always been football,” Tria said.
She added that he was able to share his passion for football with his dad.
Tria said she is grateful that Robert chose to keep playing football the season following his dad’s death because it gave the family something to focus on during a terrible time of their lives.
Robert’s favorite part of playing football is that he sees it as an outlet, he said.
“When I play football there is nothing that can affect me because of my love for the game,” he said. “I love being able to run, make explosive plays and celebrate with my teammates and some of my best friends.”
After starting the season 0-5, the Panthers found its stride midway through the season and ended with an overall record of 5-6.
Robert said he never thought of the Panthers as being winless. He and the rest of his teammates knew the Panthers had the potential and drive to make it further than any other Bonney Lake football team.
“It was always the question of when we were going to put it all together and start finishing games,” he said.
The Panthers first win of the season came against Decatur and Robert said after that game he knew they would be able to compete with the other teams in the league. He added that they were able to prove that by winning their next five games in a row and advancing to the first round of playoffs.
Tria said the year has been tough because it started out rocky but she said, they turned it around and “gave us the most incredible season.”
Robert said he was able to help lead the team by example and to never stop fighting no matter the obstacles they had to overcome.
Panthers coach Jason Silbaugh has been coaching at Bonney Lake since the spring of 2012 and coached Robert for two years.
Silbaugh said it was a privilege to coach him.
“He brings an amazing amount of passion for the game of football and continually works to improve himself and his teammates,” he said.
Silbaugh said aside from playing, Robert is a great person.
“He is always concerned about those around him,” he said. “He encourages the younger players to never give up and to keep working hard.”
Tria said he has proven himself to be a natural leader among his peers.
Throughout the season, Robert could be found on either side of the ball, playing a number of positions. He said, he doesn’t identify with one specific position and would play wherever his coaches needed him but his favorite position to play was running back.
Silbaugh said he was crucial to the Panthers at the end of the season because of his ability to play several positions, along with his leadership he brought to the team.
His mom said this season was the most exciting to watch him play because, “if he touched the ball, he made something happen.”
He said playing his last high school game was filled with sorrow but he knows that the Panthers accomplished a lot during his final season.
“We competed at a high level, we made history – being the first Bonney Lake team to beat Lakes, hosting our first playoff game, winning our first playoff game and making it to state,” Robert said. “I was extremely proud of how far our team has come and at the end of the night I had a smile on my face.”
Next season, Silbaugh said the Panthers, “will be missing an incredible football player that was able to fill many roles. We will also miss his ability to make a big play every time he touched the ball.”
He said once he graduates from Bonney Lake, he won’t be hanging up his cleats or pads anytime soon.
“I love it too much to never pad up again,” Robert said.
He hopes to play at Central Washington University or Eastern Washington University, he said.
Robert ended the season with 800 rushing yards, 600 receiving yards and 600 return yards.
He was named first team athlete of the year, first team special teams and all-purpose offense first team Thanksgiving TNT all-area.
“It felt so great to be named those incredible titles,” he said. “But like a lot of people, I wouldn’t have gotten those awards without the brothers I played side by side with every Friday night.”
He added that without the linemen blocking, without the Panthers quarterback throwing to him and other receivers and running backs blocking or executing a fake, he would not have been able to be the player he was this season.
He said that winning those awards and titles meant more to him than he thinks anyone really knows.
“I play every game and every down with such intensity for my dad,” Robert said.
Robert remembers walking to practice for his junior football team with his dad and talking about how someday he would play under the lights.
“He never got to see me play high school ball and that’s one of the reason I played and worked so hard as an individual,” he said. “So when I got the awards, in a way, it was a tribute to my father.”
Tria said every game this season was a gift.
“I am grateful that I have been able to watch Robert play with such intensity, passion and determination for the last 12 years,” she said. “I am blessed to be No. 36’s mom.”