Former Maryland running back Jake Funk, who declared for the 2021 NFL Draft Dec. 21, says his decision was made more difficult by the upward trajectory of the program, something he could’ve been a part of given that he had two years of eligibility remaining.
After winning the starting running back position prior to the season, Funk ran for 511 yards and three touchdowns in five games while catching 10 passes for 68 yards and a score. His 8.5 yards per carry rank second among FBS running backs. Funk had missed most of the prior two seasons due to ACL tears.
Before COVID-19 ravaged their season, the Terps seemed primed to make serious strides in 2020 after going 3-9 a year prior. Maryland got blown out by Northwestern — which went on to make the Big Ten championship game — to start the season, but the Terps bounced back with wins against Minnesota and Penn State. Funk starred in each win.
COVID-19 then forced the cancellation of games against Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan. Nevertheless, Funk is enthusiastic about where Terps head coach Michael Locksley is taking the program — which made his decision to enter the draft all the more difficult.
“The what-could’ve-been factor for our team is obviously very upsetting, but what I will say that the little bit that people saw this year is just a microcosm of how the program is projecting and what is happening inside those walls of the facility,” Funk said on Glenn Clark Radio Dec. 23. “I’m very, very excited about where Maryland football is headed, and that was also why it was such a hard decision for me personally when I made my decision.”
For Funk, getting to the point where he could declare for the draft has been a winding road. He had a historic career at Demascus High School, scoring 57 touchdowns as a senior (and seven in the 2015 MPSSAA Class 3A state title game). But he was rated as a two- or three-star recruit by recruiting sites — in fact, he was listed as a safety by 247Sports. Locksley offered Funk a scholarship when he took over as the interim coach in 2015; Maryland was the only Power Five program to offer Funk as a running back.
From 2016-2017, Funk contributed on special teams and at running back, though he didn’t see a ton of carries because Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison were ahead of him on the depth chart at the time. In 2018 and 2019, the same injury struck twice; he tore the ACL in his left knee while covering kickoffs early in each season.
Because Funk missed most of two years due to injury and the 2020 season doesn’t technically count toward a player’s eligibility, he could’ve had two years left at Maryland had he chosen to go that route. But pursuing a professional career was too much to pass up.
“I could’ve been a seventh-year senior. Everybody around the building would always joke with me about that,” Funk said. “I wasn’t anticipating going into this season to be fortunate enough to be able to leave. I started my master’s this fall, and from there I was anticipating being here for six years because of my education, but things worked out in my favor and an opportunity presented itself.”
It’s unclear how the pandemic will affect the typical draft calendar. The NFL Scouting Combine usually starts in late February, with pro days and in-person team visits in the weeks after that leading up to the NFL Draft in late April. Last year, the Combine went off without a hitch but almost everything else was done remotely.
Funk could have opted to return to Maryland, presumably been the starting running back for a full season and entered the draft with more clarity on what the process would’ve looked like, something he and his family considered.
“That was a huge factor, to be honest with you, but at the end of the day I have bet on myself my whole life,” Funk said. “I’ve had to earn my way throughout this sport and throughout college, my five years at Maryland. At the end of the day, I looked at myself and I was like, ‘Why stop now?’”
Funk also touched on the following topics …
On trying to live out Jordan McNair’s dream of making it to the NFL:
“I actually spoke to Jordan’s father on the phone after I made the decision. He was really happy for me. We were talking about Jordan and obviously Jordan’s dreams of playing in the NFL. We’re there and it was a talking point for us. It’s something that I definitely take a lot of pride in and representing him and representing his dreams as well. He was unfortunately not able to live out those dreams. For me and a lot of the other guys who are playing in the NFL right now, it’s something that we take a lot of pride in.”
On what he learned at Maryland, from his injuries to the tumultuous 2018 season:
“It taught me that life’s hard. Not everything is going to go your way. People are going to look at you and doubt you and really not want you to succeed. It also taught me to just appreciate where you are today because it can be taken away from you at any moment. I think those two things will carry on for the rest of my life. I’m really appreciative of all the ups and downs that I’ve been through here at the University of Maryland.”
On Taulia Tagovailoa, who completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 1,011 yards and seven touchdowns in his first year at Maryland:
“The thing that jumped out to me about Taulia immediately when he came in July was how he was able to take our team and be a leader at that quarterback position, which is obviously what you need. He was able to really get guys behind him. His competitive nature is just very, very contagious. … At the same time, he’s a guy that’s very, very critical of himself. Obviously when we played Northwestern Week 1, he was very disappointed in how he played. That following week, he was in the film room until 12 o’clock every night watching film with Coach Locks, really critiquing himself on how he could get better. Obviously in a one-week time frame he was able to completely shift his performance and just ball out against Minnesota and put on a crazy showing.”
For more from Funk, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics