“He’s a machine”: Jake Funk’s return helped Maryland football defeat Minnesota

Maryland running back Jake Funk breaks away from Minnesota defenders in the Terps’ 45-44 overtime win over the Gophers on Oct. 30, 2020 at Maryland Stadium. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

As the celebration began to die down following Maryland’s thrilling overtime win against Minnesota, running back Jake Funk stepped away from his teammates for a moment and reached for his phone. He called his family and thanked them.

They were his biggest cheerleaders during his recovery from a bevy of injuries, including two torn ACLs in the past two seasons. And they were in College Park on Friday night to see Funk’s breakout moment: a 221-rushing-yard performance, including the tying touchdown late in regulation, to help the Terps rally and defeat the Gophers.

“My family was there when I’m sitting in a hospital bed crying, while they’re debating whether or not my football career is going to end or not,” Funk said. “Those individuals were there for me at my lowest and will continue to be there for me for all highs and all lows.”

For Funk, it was a performance five years in the making. But getting to that point was a grind.

Funk starred at Damascus High School, shattering numerous records while leading the Hornets to a championship his senior season. Despite his success, he was not heavily recruited by college football’s biggest programs, landing only a handful of Division I offers.

But one of those was Maryland, with its interest spearheaded by coach Mike Locksley. He helmed the program as an interim coach in 2015 and pushed hard to keep Funk in-state.

“I’ve been a huge Jake Funk fan,” Locksley said. “Anytime you’re [one of] the all-time leading rusher[s] in the history of Maryland high school football, I think that speaks volumes.”

Funk was sold. He enrolled at this university the following January and started getting acclimated to his new program.

But then Locksley left for Alabama, and the struggles began.

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Funk saw the field sparsely during his first two seasons in College Park, as Maryland’s running back room was deep and teeming with talent. But when he did play, he showed flashes of his potential, including a late 12-yard rushing score to seal an upset over Texas in 2017.

But just as Funk was carving out a significant role in the squad, the injuries began piling up. First, a broken hand suffered in the 2018 season opener against the Longhorns. Then, a torn left ACL in just his second game back later that year. And finally, a re-tear of the same ACL in 2019 against Temple.

It was frustrating for Funk, whose efforts to hit the top of the depth chart had been repeatedly undercut by his ailments. But he did not let that stop him from mounting one last comeback in 2020.

“I was never going to let an injury define me,” Funk said. “I love the game too much to be able to step away just because of an injury.”

So he got to work over the offseason rehabbing his left knee, a process he said he could not have gone through without his family, particularly his older brother Josh. The elder Funk sibling owns a physical therapy operation and helped Jake recover after his first ACL injury.

This time, most of the rehab took place as the country was dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and normal football workouts were stopped.

Funk started his recovery at his Gaithersburg home, going through an intensive rehab program. That meant hitting the weights four times per week and regularly working with a running back coach. His brother was there to help, too.

His sessions with Josh five times per week were sometimes long and painful, but his brother’s desire to push him to be the best he could be helped him complete his recovery.

“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,” Funk said. “I wouldn’t be right here if it weren’t for [my brother].”

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And when Funk saw his name atop the running back depth chart entering the 2020 season, it was all the more sweet for the redshirt senior. He had one more chance to showcase the skillset that brought him to Maryland five years earlier and prove to Locksley — now back as head coach — that he could still lead and help the Terps win games.

That was on display for the first time Friday night, as Funk tore up Minnesota’s front seven in the victory. To his teammates, the breakout was unsurprising.

“That’s Jake, that’s what he does. He’s a machine,” quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa said. “It’s good to have someone like him in the backfield.”

“We’ve always been ready to see Funk do that,” wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. said.

And Funk has always been ready to deliver for his team. He just needed a spark.

“I challenged Jake to step up and make plays for us, and he came through on Friday night in a big way,” Locksley said. “[He] looked like [the] Jake Funk I remember out of Damascus High School.”

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