Branson Combs ends college football career in Wake Forest

Branson Combs ends college football career in Wake Forest


EVANSVILLE – Branson Combs has a clear goal at this stage of his football career.

That kind of attitude comes with experience and age. Gone are the days of pressuring Southern Indiana Athletic Conference opponents at Enlow Field. He’s now a sixth-year college athlete, if you can believe that, and has spent all of that time so far at the Football Championship Subdivision level.

Still, Combs wanted to prove something in his senior year, so he’s taking a chance this fall.

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The Memorial High School graduate is beginning his final college football season at Wake Forest. Combs had one goal in mind when choosing the location in December: He wanted to compete against the best teams possible.

“I wanted to play at the Power 4 level,” he said. “Just to prove to myself that I can compete with anyone and give myself the best chance to play at the NFL level.”

How did Combs manage to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference? Through talent and perseverance.

The senior was one of the best players in Indiana during his final two years at Memorial, twice being selected in the IFCA’s top 50 and playing on both sides of the ball. Combs holds the school record in every major pass receiving category – he caught 75 passes for 1,517 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2018 – and ranks fifth in state history in receiving yards. The Tigers reached the Class 3A state championship twice with Combs, including a win over Brebeuf in 2017.

Then came five years at Southern Illinois and patience. After a redshirt, Combs played the shortened 2020 season as a wide receiver before switching to defense. He developed into one of the best linebackers in the Missouri Valley Conference, was twice named All-Conference and was a key starter on successful teams.

Combs recorded a career-high 85 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions last fall as the Salukis lost in overtime at Idaho in the second round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship.

“I loved my time at SIU,” Combs said. “That was the hardest part. They understood my perspective. I wanted to play at the Power 4 level. There are a lot of great people there and I built a lot of great relationships.”

The Memorial graduate chose Wake Forest as his final stop for several reasons. Power Four Conference and the chance to play against quality competition? He committed less than a week after entering the portal. Combs enrolled in January and is expected to be an impactful linebacker for the Demon Deacons.

Wake Forest finished 4-8 last fall and will open the season on August 29 against North Carolina A&T.

“The program has been great and has everything I wanted from the transfer,” Combs said. “It’s fun to be around everyone every day. It’s good football. I get to play in the ACC and compete against a lot of good teams.”

He expects some adjustment to the FBS level with bigger and faster opponents. Wake Forest’s schedule this fall includes Ole Miss, Clemson, North Carolina and Miami. Ultimately, he noted, it’s still football, regardless of the level. Some of the best FCS teams regularly beat FBS programs.

The goal for this season remains the same: He wants to show that he can compete at the highest level of college football.

“It’s football,” Combs said. “That’s been my mindset. I don’t have any specific stats or anything I need to achieve. I want to play my best and make good shots. At the end of the day, I want to win football games. That’s the number one priority.”