HITCHCOCK — What started as a conversation one Saturday night at the old Texas City skating rink became the bedrock for the success of Hitchcock High School’s powerlifting team during the past 26 years, one that Tony Combs has handed off to his son.
Combs was the school’s first participant in the state powerlifting finals in 1988; he’ll await the news from Abilene on Saturday as his son, T.J. Combs, will be one of several area performers bidding for a top spot.
“I got him started early because I wanted him to be more strong on the football field,” said Tony Combs, who is also a member of the HISD school board. “I knew the stronger he would be, the more confident he would also be. It took some work getting him into the routine, but I am proud and excited about what he has done.”
To say the younger Combs has a done a lot would be putting matters mildly. Not only has he participated in powerlifting, T.J. Combs is also a four-year letterman in football, basketball and baseball. In order to get him time in the gym, Bulldogs powerlifting coach Cody Carney opened the athletic facility at 6 a.m. to accommodate his playing and practicing demands.
“He is such a hard worker,” said Carney, who has known the family since he was the ball boy when his father, Gary Carney, became Hitchcock’s football coach in 1987. “A kid like T.J. comes along rarely, not only because of his athletic gifts, but because he has been a leader on and off the field since the moment he stepped on campus.”
T.J. Combs’ road to Abilene began one Saturday night in 1987 when his dad ran into Raymond Nunn, who was then one of the top powerlifters of La Marque’s program. The two talked well into the night about the sport, which led Tony Combs to run straight to his track coach, Al Smith, the following Monday.
“I didn’t know anything about it until that conversation,” Tony Combs said. “I talked to coach Smith and told him how interested I was in taking part in the sport, and everything just led from there.”
Tony Combs participated in a meet at Bridge City, where the super heavyweight would cross paths with Silsbee strong man Mark Henry. Long before he became a World Wrestling Entertainment superstar, Henry was a record-setter who also bred dominance wherever he competed.
“Oh, he was very, very good,” said Combs of Henry. “Anytime I saw I was competing against him, I knew I’d finish in second place.”
Tony Combs also credited La Marque strength coach Robert Oglesby for his success, as he would frequently ride to meets with the La Marque athletes on weekends when Smith had track meets.
“I’m thankful for the coaches who showed me the path,” Tony Combs said. “I’m also thankful for the work that coach Carney and coach (Craig) Smith have also done with my son.”
For the younger Combs, his road to Abilene kicked into overdrive last year when he missed reaching state by 20 pounds. Already a determined worker who has never missed a practice or workout session, T.J. Combs had one goal in mind when he returned to school for his senior year.
“I felt like I worked so hard to reach the regionals, that I came back and worked out two times a day,” he said. “I came in with the mindset that I would not fail.”
Combs isn’t the only member of the Hitchcock team to qualify for state.
Sophomore Brenttany Birdow, who is only the fourth female in school history to reach the state finals, competed last week and finished 14th in the 181-pound division with 730 total pounds.
Other Galveston County lifters
Dickinson will have six members competing the week for state glory, led by super heavyweight Alonzo Crittendon, who may attempt to break the state record of 835 pounds in the squat. Alec DeLeon (148), Thomas Bridges (181), Kaylon North, Anietie Etuk (both in the 242 field) and Chance Harmanson (super heavyweight) also will compete.
La Marque will be represented by Gerald Johnson (148), while Francois Bonilla (super heavyweight) will lift for Texas City.
At a glance
Galveston County participants in the state powerlifting meet:
T.J. Combs, Hitchcock
Alonzo Crittendon, Dickinson
Alec DeLeon, Dickinson
Thomas Bridges, Dickinson
Kaylon North, Dickinson
Anietie Etuk, Dickinson
Chance Harmanson, Dickinson
Gerald Johnson, La Marque
Francois Bonilla, Texas City