Jake Funk is a gritty, hard-nosed back who has pounded his way to a record-shattering season by running over defenders — and sometimes right through them.
Funk also despises sentences like the one above.
At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, the Damascus senior isn’t afraid to get physical and take defenders head-on. But Funk said there is more to his game than grit. He does not want to be labeled a power runner or a workhorse.
“I just feel like for me to be considered a bruiser of a running back or more of a fullback, it’s kind of an insult, and it does drive me,” said Funk, whose top-ranked Swarmin’ Hornets face Dundalk (12-1) in Thursday’s Maryland 3A final. “I just want to be considered a running back.”
Funk uses the little things — like the backhanded bruiser back compliments and the doubts about his breakaway speed — as motivation. It’s not as if the Maryland commit was ignored by college coaches; he had offers from Ivy League schools, service academies and Wisconsin, among other schools. But the two-way star felt that, given his résumé, recruiters have been overlooking him as a runner, while scouts and media members have been underselling his athleticism.
“Whether it’s somebody telling me I’m not good enough or somebody telling me I’m not fast enough or somebody telling me I’m not a running back at the next level or I’m going to be at the defensive side of the ball — things like that, it motivates me a lot. I try to prove people wrong every time I play,” said Funk, who does play safety on defense.
Funk has been effective running inside, outside and everywhere in between this season. He broke the single-season Maryland record with 50 total touchdowns and has 2,595 rushing yards (11.9 per carry). And his historic numbers have come despite sitting out the fourth quarters of blowouts — Damascus (13-0) has outscored its opponents by an average of 37.7 points.
“The guy is consistently running, and once he gets into the secondary he runs by guys or runs guys over,” said Seneca Valley Coach Fred Kim, whose team suffered its only two losses against Damascus. “He’s the one kid we couldn’t stop.”
Funk’s measurements are on par with those of other highly touted recruits. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.63 seconds, he can squat 500 pounds and he has a 37-inch vertical.
That athleticism runs in the Funk family’s bloodlines. Funk’s late grandfather, Walt Funk, played basketball at Penn State and coached high school and college basketball. Funk’s grandmother, Jean Funk, was one of the first female athletes at Penn State, and she competed on the men’s rifle team. His father, Jim Funk, played football at Penn State, and his mother, A’Lisa Funk, was a national champion swimmer at Clarion University. His half-brother, Josh Funk, played lacrosse for Ohio State and then professionally. His younger brother, Jordan Funk, starts on Damascus’s offensive line.
Funk said being raised in a family of athletes — and growing up in a small town with a rich football history and the Damascus Cougars youth football program — led him down the path to stardom. But the work ethic, as much as his support system, is what put him over the top, said Josh Funk, who helps train his younger brother. Jake recognized early on that marginal gains in strength and conditioning could lead to major gains in performance, Josh said. A late bloomer, Funk was one of the smallest players on his middle school teams and came into high school at about 5-7 and 140 pounds.
Funk played on the junior varsity team as a freshman, earning team MVP honors. He grew stronger each season, and the results showed on the field. As a sophomore on varsity, Funk eased into the backfield and eventually earned a starting spot. He put on about 25 pounds before last season, setting himself up for a breakout junior campaign.
“You get a certain amount of discipline instilled in you, and I think that consistency, having that consistency, this is how we do things,” Josh Funk said. “This is what high achievers do. This is what it takes to be successful. He’s been really good at the little things.”
While Funk piled up stats last season, the playoff run didn’t end the way he had hoped. Damascus squandered a three-touchdown lead and fell to Franklin, 35-21, in the Maryland 3A final. Funk said it was a painful loss. He didn’t go to school the next day.
A year later, that game remains another source of motivation for Funk. He doesn’t want to relive that feeling. He doesn’t want to have another silent bus ride home. He wants to leave M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore as a state champion running back.
“We came out in the second half and just laid an egg,” Funk said. “We have some unfinished business that we have to take care of this week.”