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Why Jake Funk can prove people who doubt he’s a running back wrong once again

Funk’s story is worth another chapter or two

Rutgers v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty Images

With Cam Akers out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles suffered during training, Darrell Henderson has been vaulted to the top of the depth chart for the Los Angeles Rams and behind him is an inexperienced backfield that features Xavier Jones and Raymond Calais, but to me the most intriguing of them all is the 2021 seventh round draft pick out of Maryland, Jake Funk.

What makes Funk such an intriguing option can be seen in what little film and experience that he brings to the Rams. But what he lacks in game experience he makes up for in determination, resilience, and effort. Funk is an underdog story that is worth sharing, even in a league of many underdogs.

As a senior at Demascus High School in Maryland, Funk rushed for 2,866 yards and 57 touchdowns behind an offensive line that featured his brother Jordan at left tackle. In the state championship game, the same Funk who was teased for being “too small” and “too slow” rushed for 270 yards and seven touchdowns to cap off his final high school season with a perfect 14-0 record.

Despite rushing for roughly 4,700 yards during his final two seasons, Funk had a difficult time finding Power 5 programs that would make him an offer without asking him to switch positions away from running back. Funk recently said in an interview with the Rams website that colleges told him that they’d have be taking “a chance on me to play me at running back.”

Teams that were scouting Funk didn’t know if they were recruiting as a safety (where he also played, and you can can see a little bit of him doing it in that highlight video where he scores seven offensive touchdowns), a special teamer (which he volunteered to play in high school because he wanted to play as much as possible), as the dreaded “athlete” label, or as a running back.

Funk wound up as a two or three-star prospect and his only Power 5 offer came from nearby Maryland, and even that was a difficult process for Funk.

“He had some people along the way who talked to him — extra coaches and things that he was doing with and working out with — and tell him, ‘You are a running back,’” Jim Funk said in a phone interview this month. “And he always seemed to be natural at that position. I mean, even from a young age, he seemed to have the vision, seemed to be able to see the field really well, had the speed.”

The recruiting process took a sour turn in the spring of his junior year, when a former Maryland coaching staff member and area recruiter told Funk he wasn’t a Big Ten running back, nor was there enough tape of him playing safety to extend a scholarship offer.

Though offensive coordinator Mike Locksley wanted Funk as a running back, head coach Randy Edsall didn’t agree. Fortunately for Funk, unfortunately for Edsall, the head coach was fired after a 2-4 start in 2015 and replaced by Locksley, and within two days he had his running backs coach at one of Funk’s practices.

“Jake was not being heavily recruited at the time, but with me knowing this area so well, (and) the numbers that he was putting up that year, I just thought, ‘There’s no way you don’t offer the leading rusher, the guy that’s rushed for 57 touchdowns, playing that level of football in the state of Maryland, the chance to come play (here),’” Locksley, a Washington, D.C., native, told last week.

Funk, awaiting his opportunity to take over the backfield, stood out as a high effort tackling machine on special teams and he was named as the Maryland’s Special Teams Player of the Year in 2017.

He then took the first devastating blow to his football career when in 2018 he tore his ACL on a routine kickoff which ended his junior year early. Funk made it through that rehab in time to suit up in Week 1 of the 2019 season against Howard, carrying the ball 12 times for 79 yards and a touchdown. In Week 2, Funk had a 54-yard run against Syracuse and finished with 94 yards on five carries, but the best week of his college career would soon turn into the worst.

In the following game against Temple, Funk tore his ACL again. It was again on a kickoff.

“Jake played an integral role, not just on offense but on special teams,” Maryland head coach Mike Locksley said. “That’s a huge blow for us.”

With back-to-back ACL injuries and the NFL still sounding like a dream that couldn’t come true, Funk could have easily put up his cleats and called it. His college career at that point was four seasons, two ACL tears, 75 carries, 452 yards, and though everyone loves his effort on special teams, his knees clearly do not.

Instead, Funk went right back to rehab and Maryland was even looking to see if they could get him another redshirt year and potentially two more seasons with the Terrapins.

Because of the restrictions in place Funk could not train at Maryland’s facilities and would enlist another brother, Josh Funk, owner of Rehab 2 Perform, as his trainer. After another year’s work, Funk’s determination to get back on the football field would pay off. He would be named the starter for Maryland in 2020, averaging 8.6 yards per carry and 516 rushing yards on 60 carries over a five-game season that was shortened due to the pandemic.

Despite the lack of interest in him following a 2,800-yard season in high school, all the setbacks in his college career, two ACL injuries, and a shortened Covid-era final season, Funk found himself in a draft class that would increase his odds of getting selected. Because the NCAA granted everybody an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic, the 2021 NFL Draft had one-third the number of prospects as a normal year because so many players opted to return to school to improve their draft stock. Many of those prospects could have been day three picks and that might have pushed Funk off of the draft board and into the undrafted free agent pool.

Instead, the Rams surveyed their options, perused the roster, and realized that they could use a player who would contribute on special teams as a gunner, potentially as a returner, and general manager Les Snead probably also fell in love with Funk’s pro day numbers: 4.43 40-yard dash, 38” vertical, 10’2 broad jump, and 22 reps on the bench.

Colleges refused to see Funk as a running back and then during his college career he averaged 7.2 yards per carry and scored 10 times on only 135 carries. The NFL probably didn’t view Funk as a running back either — certainly LA is more likely to believe he’s a special teams gunner than the next Marshall Faulk — but now he has a chance to move up with the injury to Akers and there are not actually a ton of roadblocks right now between him and Henderson.

It would take an outstanding preseason for Funk to move up to the number two position on the depth chart, but without much clarity in the Rams’ backfield, Funk has every opportunity to make an impact with this team this season.