Just 30 miles north of College Park lies the small town of Damascus, surrounded with farmland and powered by football, and home to Jake Funk. Quick to conceal individual accolades in light of a community that proudly claims him as their own, Funk takes his homegrown upbringing to heart.
Though No. 34 has traded in his longtime forest green and hornet yellow for Maryland red and gold, Damascus will last forever with the University of Maryland true freshman running back.
“I say it all the time, Damascus prepared me a lot for college,” Funk said. “People don’t realize it, but the Damascus coaching staff is very, very knowledgeable about what they’re doing. They gave me a base foundation for what to expect in the college game. That’s something I appreciate a lot.”
With such gracefulness, built from humility and a blue-collar work ethic, Funk has cemented his legacy in the prideful town of Damascus — from aspiring the next generation of football players to making surprise visits in the community.
— Jake Funk (@jakefunk34) August 24, 2016
Made a memory that will last with me forever tonight. Surprising my man D'amari and his family for Christmas!☺️🎁 pic.twitter.com/nGzscndhyU
— Jake Funk (@jakefunk34) December 21, 2015
In his senior season, Funk ran for a berserk 2,866 yards on the ground, 13 yards shy of NFL running back Ben Tate’s mark in 2004. He also willed his way for a state record 57 touchdowns. His nightly averaged was 205 yards and four scores. Most games, he was out at halftime.
His storied ledger garnered Gatorade Maryland high school football Player of the Year and led the Swarmin’ Hornets to its eighth football state championship in school history.
“Last year was unbelievable,” Funk said. “My last season, playing for the town I grew up in. Also, going out the way I did with a bunch of guys I’ve been friends with since kindergarten and first grade. It couldn’t have gone any better.”
With high school behind him, Funk now finds himself as a key contributor on University of Maryland’s football team heading into this Saturday’s opening contest against Howard — primarily in the running back rotation, as a safety on defense and starter on special teams.
Usually, true freshmen are redshirted — stashed away for one year to be groomed, learn the collegiate system, and get their bodies in shape for the high-paced speed of the game. For Funk, he got a head start in the college football realm when he graduated high school early to enroll in mid-January.
This allowed Funk to participate in workouts and intra-squad scrimmages over the spring and summer, helping him mentally grasp the concepts of playing at the Power-5 collegiate level.
“Looking back on it now, enrolling early was the best decision I have ever made,” Funk said. “It allowed me to play with confidence when I got into camp because I knew what I was expecting to get into, I knew what I was supposed to do.”
It also allowed Funk to make a first impression on a new coaching staff, headed by former Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who wasted little time getting to know one of his key pieces in the Class of 2016 recruiting class.
Less than 72 hours into his new job, and two days after Funk ran for 289 yards and seven touchdowns in the Class 3A state championship, Durkin and Funk met for the first time.
There, a vision was mapped out, which included Funk to join the team early in January.
“The first time we talked to (Durkin), my family and I were sold immediately,” Funk said. “We were sold with he wanted to create with Maryland football and what he wanted his team to be like. … We knew this was the right place for me.”
Durkin takes over the head coaching position after Randy Edsall was released of his duties last October. From the onset, Durkin has overhauled the programs culture with enthusiasm and urgency.
“Coach Durkin is the most intense person I have ever met,” Funk said. “On the practice field, he’s freakin’ great. He’s so intense, he’s so into everything. In the media rooms, he’s very focused with what’s going on. He has tunnel vision for what he wants to do.”
According to the two-deep depth chart, which was released on Monday evening, Funk is one of three true freshmen in line to contribute at the skill position (running back and wide receiver) heading into Week 1. He’s also one of two players expected to see playing time on both offense and defense.
For Funk, the engine behind his early success is his football IQ, such as reacting to running lanes and taking advantage of every opportunity. Funk also said his offensive line in high school paved running lanes so large he rarely had to react to defenses.
“In college, it’s rare when you have some guy who is so physically dominant that he can do whatever the (heck) he wants,” Funk said. “So, you have to learn, in college, the little things … making sure you do what you need to do to put yourself in the best position to make big plays. It’s being able to do your job.”
Besides his football IQ, Funk excels at getting vertical quickly as a runner. His downhill style of running compliments a talented backfield lined with nimbleness that includes senior Trey Edmunds, senior Kenny Goins, and sophomore Ty Johnson.
First year offensive coordinator Walt Bell has implemented an up-tempo, run-first offense molded around the backfield rotation of Edmunds, Funk, Johnson and Goins, with sights set on steering Terps football into winning fashion.
“I think this team is going to shock a lot people,” Funk said. “The overall atmosphere with the team has grown so much. … Everybody is ready to go out and perform.”
Though Funk will go down as one of the greatest high school football players in the state’s history, the road to playing a hand in revitalizing in his hometown team hasn’t been easy.
As a sophomore, Funk overcame his inferior size of 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds to lead Damascus to a 9-2 record. Over the offseason between his sophomore and junior year, he grew three inches and added close to 30 pounds, just by spending countless hours in the weight room.
His critics told him he would never reach the Power-5 level, despite producing video-game-like numbers deep into his senior season. Every recruiting network had Funk ranked with either 2-stars, or even unrated with no resume.
“That hurt, not knowing what the future held,” Funk said in an interview last November. “When people would come up to ask me, ‘where are you going to college?’ I literally said back, ‘I have no idea’.”
Then, prior to Week 8 of the 2015 high school football season, Funk received his first Power-5 offer as a running back from the University of Maryland.
“It meant more than what most people would think,” Funk said, who will be majoring in kinesiology.
Despite being with the program for eight months, Funk said it hasn’t hit him that he’s playing Power-5 football just 30 miles south of his hometown that rocked to the tune of George Clinton’s “We Want The Funk” every fall Friday night.
Funk, like his coaching staff and teammates, believe in the optimistic notion instilled within the program that a national championship is attainable down the road. For affirmation, Maryland’s 2017 recruiting class ranks 17th in the nation according to Yahoo Rivals.
“I really do believe people are starting to buy in, and people are starting to believe something special is happening in College Park,” Funk said. “It all starts out with the coaching staff, and we have the coaching staff in order to do that. And then it comes down to getting players in the right spot and mold them into national championship caliber players.”
With an unrivaled work ethic, built from humility and perseverance, Funk has risen from a castaway underdog to hometown hero, and a key piece in Maryland football’s vision on reaching prominence.
“I’m so excited,” Funk said. “I haven’t even scratched the surface yet on what’s going to happen here.”