- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 5, 2020

There was a time — however short — that Jake Funk wasn’t sure if he’d be back to running and cutting and scoring touchdowns on a football field.

After an injury-filled 2018 gave way to another ACL tear in 2019, his second in as many seasons, the Maryland football running back returned to square one. He had another full recovery to work through, more waiting and resting and wondering.

And Funk had plenty to wonder about: Wondering if his twice surgically repaired knee would feel quite the same, wondering what his role might be in the Terrapins’ backfield if he did make it back and wondering if there would be a season at all given the coronavirus pandemic.

“My family was there when I’m sitting in a hospital bed crying, debating whether my football career is going to end or not,” Funk said.

Funk’s football career did not end in that hospital bed. He got up and out of it. He returned to rehab, gaining strength and trust back in his knee, working closely with his brother, Josh, a physical therapist. Then he returned to practices, and to games, and last week against Minnesota he compiled a career day.



He had been knocked down — twice — yet stood up stronger on both occasions. After that 221-yard, two-touchdown performance on Oct. 30, which dispelled any doubts that Funk was back at his best, Funk picked up his phone and called those who never doubted.

“My mom, my dad, my older brother and then his fiancée were at the game,” Funk said. “All them were together, and I called them all and just thanked them all, because all the time each and every one of them has put into me the last couple years, going through what I’ve gone through.”

It took a roundabout path for Funk to get where he was last week, the lead rusher who played a major role in a comeback victory against a Big Ten school. But it didn’t shock coach Mike Locksley; he was the one who extended Funk a scholarship offer in 2015, shortly after he became the Terrapins’ interim head coach.

Locksley had seen what Funk could do at Damascus High School, the 2,866 rushing yards and a state record 57 touchdowns his senior year. Funk epitomizes the kind of talent Locksley wants to keep local.

But it took time for Funk to make his mark in College Park, a combination of the skilled rushers ahead of him in the pecking order and the injuries that sidelined him. In 2018, he first missed eight games with a broken hand, returned for one week and then tore his ACL. And the following year, he tore his ACL again during the third game of the season.

Funk’s back as a redshirt senior because he didn’t give in, though, and it led to his latest opportunity.

“I was never going to let an injury define me as a football player,” Funk said. “I love the game too much to be able to step away because of an injury, unless it was really, really career threatening.”

Funk didn’t believe his torn ACL was that, even though he had torn it the year before. He has seen some of the top running backs in the NFL recover from similar knee injuries, and he figured he could do the same.

He and his brother, Josh, made tweaks to their workouts from the year before. They also had more time to train, pinpointing certain areas Funk wanted to strengthen. Funk would see his brother five times a week, lift weights with his friends in a barn four times a week, and saw a running back coach one-on-one another three to four times a week.

“It would be long, hard days where you were just grinding your body, beating it down, recovering as best you could,” Funk said. “Doing the little things with [Josh] to really get my knee to the point where I feel extremely confident in it.”

At Maryland Stadium against the Golden Gophers, Funk exhibited that confidence. With 21 carries, the 5-foot-10 tailback bowled through Minnesota’s defense to the tune of 221 yards. His short-yardage catch produced the game’s opening score, and a 19-yard scamper in the fourth quarter forced overtime for the Terrapins.

He proved he can be the bell cow on a team that lost considerable talent in the backfield last season, with Anthony McFarland and Javon Leake departing. And five years after Locksley offered Funk that scholarship, he’s displaying the type of production Locksley thought the former Damascus star would bring to College Park.

“I’ve always been a big Jake Funk fan,” Locksley said. “He’s a guy that’s the all-time leading rusher in the state of Maryland, a local guy, right here from the crib. He’s healthy, his leadership, he brings it every day.”

His experience helps to nurture a new starting quarterback, and his ability to pick up free blitzers keeps Taulia Tagovailoa upright. His aptitude at breaking big runs for his team just completes the dynamic.

“That’s Jake. That’s what he does,” Tagovailoa said. “He’s a machine.”

He’s an indispensable part of a team undergoing the early parts of a rebuild, with youth all around trying to navigate a Big Ten schedule. The Oct. 30 result was a positive step, in large part thanks to Funk’s contributions.

After the game, after the celebrations that spilled onto the field and into the locker room subsided, Funk found a moment to himself. He hadn’t forgotten those who had made that magical night possible, the ones who had supported him through a second torn ACL. So he pulled out his phone and made the call, thanking his family.

He was a long way from that hospital bed.

“There are very, very, very few people that really understand what the last two to two-and-a-half years have been like for me, from a physical standpoint to a mental standpoint,” Funk said. “It’s been a long two years, to say the least.”

 

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