Lobo Combs finds helpful way to honor late brother's memory (w/ video) - Albuquerque Journal

Lobo Combs finds helpful way to honor late brother’s memory (w/ video)

UNM junior Tavian Combs (7) huddles with kids from the Carrie Tingley Hospital Foundation before the Lobos practiced on Aug. 19 (Steve Virgen/Journal)

Tavian Combs smiled while he stood next to children with disabilities from the Carrie Tingley Hospital Foundation just before a recent University of New Mexico football practice.

With upbeat hip-hop music blaring from nearby speakers, Combs, who plays the “lobo” safety position, wanted to dance and encouraged his new friends to do the same.

While many looking on thought Combs provided the children with a meaningful experience, it was the kids who were bringing Combs much-needed peace and providing him with happiness rather than the pain and anger he felt during Christmas in Amarillo.

Combs’ older brother Taymarion Johnson was on a motorcycle and was struck by a car on Christmas Eve. Johnson, who at 20 was one year older than Combs, died on Christmas from the vehicular accident.

Combs has a name, image and likeness deal with Everguard Roofing, the Albuquerque company that helped connect him with the CTHF children. He said he gained a positive perspective on life from the kids.

“Not everybody gets to just wake up and just have a good day,” said Combs. “Seeing those kids really brings joy to your heart. Some days you can wake up in a bad mood, but then going out there and spending time with those kids really brightens your day.”

FAREWELL TAY: Combs said he and Johnson were like twin brothers, growing up in Amarillo, where they did mostly everything together and found ways to brew competition.

When Combs was home for the holidays, he said he had plans to watch the latest Spider-Man movie with Johnson on Christmas Eve. But those were his final memories of the older brother many called, “Tay.”

“We did play football together (at Randall High),” Combs said. “My junior year, we both got called up to varsity. I ended up breaking my leg so I had to be on the sidelines, kind of coaching him up. He got to give me some insight for what he saw on the field.”

Combs said he thinks about Johnson every day. The UNM junior defensive back mostly feels anger because he said he just wanted to spend more time with Johnson. To him, each day remains a challenge controlling the emotions that stem from the profound loss.

Johnson was at a traffic light when a car made a turn into the motorcycle, Combs said. He knew the car driver, who survived and was one year behind Combs while at Randall High.

“We figured out the whole story,” Combs said. “There really wasn’t anything crazy that came out of the investigation.”

Combs doesn’t want to think about 2021 Christmas Eve. He prefers instead to dwell on happier times with his older brother.

Combs said he developed a strong love for football because of Johnson, who also played defensive back and receiver as Combs did. During high school football offseasons, they would walk to a field near their home where their friends were playing 7-on-7.

“Me and him would always go one on one with each other, hyping each other up, competing with each other,” Combs said. “We had a really competitive nature. Anything we were doing we always wanted to be the No. 1 dude. We were always competing. We had a similar competitive nature.”

UNM junior Tavian Combs (7) makes a tackle during a recent UNM football practice. (Chancey Bush/ Albuquerque Journal)

Combs shows that strong drive with the Lobos as an aggressive tackler. Last year, he started 11 games, missing one with an injury, and finished second on the team with 81 tackles, tied for the team lead with two interceptions and tied for fourth with four pass breakups. In three games, Combs registered double-digit tackles in each.

Johnson made an attempt at football after high school, attending one semester at Blinn, a junior college in Brenham, Texas. But he didn’t fit well there, Combs said, and then the coronavirus pandemic came in 2020.

Johnson had recently been working in construction and home improvement projects. He visited Albuquerque for some games, including the Lobos’ 34-25 win over New Mexico State last Sept. 11.

“I wake up every day and I fight for sure to get out of bed,” Combs said. “I wish I had him here another day. I think about him a lot, every day.”

SUPPORTING TAVIAN: Combs reached out to UNM coach Danny Gonzales shortly after the motorcycle accident. Gonzales checked in with Combs each morning and night afterwards. UNM safeties coach David Howes and his wife Tami (Gonzales’ sister) traveled to Amarillo during the holidays to be there for Combs.

Howes said he tried to stay at a distance while in Amarillo, yet showed support and let Combs know he was there for him.

Howes is grateful Combs has been able to spend time with the CTHF children as they both help each other.

“Getting involved with the hospital and the young children has really helped him give back,” said Howes, the former Rio Rancho High coach. “That says volumes about his character and who he is. He’s able to work through some of that really deep pain and still extend himself to those young people.”

At UNM, Combs’ roommates and fellow defensive backs Jerrick Reed II, Hunter Sellers and Antonio Hunt know about Combs’ loss. They had already referred to each other as brothers because of their strong unity on defense, yet it took on a higher level of meaning when Combs no longer had Johnson.

Combs said not everybody on the team knew about his offseason, and he was fine if it had stayed that way.

“There’s nothing you really can do in those situations other than be there for them, and Tavian is a part of our family,” Gonzales said. “And so that was the first thing to be able to support him in whatever he needed. Sometimes they want to be left alone. Sometimes they want company. Tavian is a very mature young man, but no one is prepared to deal with the death of a sibling and he’s within a year of your age and at the age of 20. It was really hard on his family, but they are a family of faith and I think that played a big part in helping them.”

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