How Competition Among Running Backs At Maryland Prepared Jake Funk For NFL

While Jake Funk’s NFL dream came to fruition May 1 when he was drafted No. 233 overall by the Los Angeles Rams, the former Maryland running back has competed against NFL-caliber competition every day for the last five years.

Surrounded by his friends and family, Funk became the latest member of that talented Maryland running back room to join the NFL.

“I mean, it was so special. It’s something I can’t even really put into words,” Funk said on Glenn Clark Radio May 5. “… Being surrounded by those people and seeing my name on the TV is something that I’ll cherish forever.”

In his five seasons at Maryland, Funk saw several fellow running backs get opportunities in the NFL, including Ty Johnson (186th overall to the Detroit Lions in 2019), Anthony McFarland (124th overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020), Trey Edmunds (undrafted free agent, 2017) and Javon Leake (undrafted free agent, 2020).

“It prepares you so much because I’ve been in an NFL running back room since I was 18 years old,” Funk said. “It’s amazing and I’m very blessed that I was in that running back room because I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that.”

Competing against future NFL talent fueled Funk’s competitive fire, but it also prepared him and instilled more confidence that he’ll be successful in the next chapter of his journey as he enters the NFL.

“Seeing all of these guys that I competed with day in and day out gave me hope,” Funk said. “It assured me that I was good enough, and then on top of that, Ty Johnson is my really good friend. He was like, ‘I’ve been in your room with you and I’ve been in NFL rooms, and you are good enough to be an NFL running back.'”

That competition for playing time helped sharpen Funk both on and off the field as he patiently waited for consistent playing time in his five years at Maryland. During that time, Funk also suffered two torn ACL’s, another obstacle in his journey.

As the featured running back in 2020, Funk showcased his explosiveness, averaging 8.6 yards per carry, which ranked second among FBS backs. He finished with 60 carries for 516 yards and three touchdowns in five games last season.

However, before he was the main ball-carrier in the backfield, Funk made his impact on special teams coverage units. In his five seasons at Maryland, Funk compiled 30 tackles on special teams, including 21 in first two seasons.

That’s one of the areas where Funk takes great pride in his game, which was evident when he discussed why an NFL team should draft him on “Good Morning Football” prior to the draft.

In fact, Peter Schrager of NFL Network spoke with Rams head coach Sean McVay after the draft, who explained that the Rams watched Funk’s compelling selling points on why he should be drafted.

Funk’s unique ability to contribute in that area made him more enticing as a prospect, and that’ll be his path to making the Rams’ final 53-man roster. The Rams’ running back room already features two highly-drafted young backs in Cam Akers (52nd overall in 2020) and Darrell Henderson (70th overall in 2019).

“Talking to their coaching staff, initially definitely special teams is going to be something that’s pretty huge for me in terms of how I’m going to get on the field,” Funk said. “Everything else after that from an offensive contribution point of view is going to be based on what I earn. I have to go in there and compete. The competitor in me is going to compete with those guys and earn everything that I get on offense.”

Reflecting back on his journey, Funk was always a player who was underrated. Despite setting a Maryland record with 57 touchdowns his senior year at Damascus High School, Funk was just a three-star recruit coming out of high school. From there, he battled every single day in practice, competing for reps in a crowded backfield.

Funk is hoping his journey can serve as inspiration for local kids in his community of Damascus.

“I come from a really small town in Maryland,” Funk said, “and I really just hope that my story can bring some kind of hope or inspiration to some kid out there who is in the same boat, just underappreciated, undervalued and somebody who is doubted throughout the way. If you really put your mind to it and you sacrifice, anything’s possible.”

For more from Funk, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics