THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Jake Funk has never been one to be defined by the odds, always a goal-setter who met those marks no matter the obstacles.
Low-ranked recruit in high school? Didn't stop him from earning a scholarship to play college football at Maryland.
Two ACL injuries in college? Didn't stop him from a breakout game against Minnesota in 2020 and getting drafted.
Funk's football journey has been marked by unwavering self-confidence that has him on the doorstep of realizing what at various points seemed like an improbable dream.
Jake and younger brother Jordan Funk are two years apart and got to play together one year in high school. Jordan played left tackle for Damascus High School as a sophomore during Jake's senior season, when Jake rushed for 2,866 yards and a single-season state record 57 touchdowns on 249 carries.
Even before he had an up-close-and-personal view of Jake's performances, Jordan said Jake's perseverance stood out.
Entering high school and all throughout it, Jake had been told he was too small or too slow, but that didn't stop him from earning team MVP honors after playing junior varsity as a freshman in 2012. While Jake arrived at Damascus around "5-foot-5, 5-foot-6" and 140 pounds, he eventually developed into a 5-10, 198-pound running back by his senior season.
As that physical maturation progressed, he moved into a starting role as a sophomore, then broke out with 237 carries for 1,832 yards and 35 touchdowns for a 13-1 Damascus team that was Class 3A state runner-up as a junior. Jake capped off his career with that senior senior season which helped lead the Hornets to a 3A state championship and perfect 14-0 record in 2015. Jake scored a record seven touchdowns in the state championship, adding 270 rushing yards.
Meanwhile, recruiting websites rated him as a two- or three-star prospect. His positions on each profile ranged from running back (ESPN) to safety (247Sports) to athlete (Rivals) since he also played defense for the Hornets. Similarly, not every college viewed him as a running back at the next level.
"Everybody said that they'd have to take a chance on me to play me at running back," Jake told theRams.com in May. "I've been called a fullback, I've been called a strong safety, I've been called a linebacker, for obvious reasons."
Jake would volunteer to play on Damascus' special teams because he viewed himself as a football player and wanted to be on the field, according to his father Jim Funk. Still, it had been reinforced to Jake multiple times that he was capable of playing running back.
"He had some people along the way who talked to him – extra coaches and things that he was doing with and working out with – and tell him, 'you are a running back,'" Jim said in a phone interview this month. "And he always seemed to be natural at that position. I mean, even from a young age, he seemed to have the vision, seemed to be able to see the field really well, had the speed."
The recruiting process took a sour turn in the spring of his junior year, when a former Maryland coaching staff member and area recruiter told Jake he wasn't a Big Ten running back, nor was there enough tape of him playing safety to extend a scholarship offer.
Jake initially wrote off Maryland after that, determined to prove he was worthy of a Power Five scholarship offer. While offers from the service academies and Ivy League schools would come in, he visited other Power Five programs across the country in search of offers, but those trips didn't materialize the way he hoped.
Current Maryland head coach Mike Locksley, who at the time was the school's offensive coordinator, visited midway through Jake's senior year. Locksley was up front with Jake and explained that he wanted to offer Jake as a running back, as the offensive staff was impressed with his improvement between his junior and senior year, but couldn't get then-head coach Randy Edsall to sign off on it.
Edsall was eventually let go, with Locksley installed as interim head coach. Two days after being hired, Locksley offered Jake and sent Maryland's running backs coach out to one of Jake's practices.
"Jake was not being heavily recruited at the time, but with me knowing this area so well, (and) the numbers that he was putting up that year, I just thought, 'there's no way you don't offer the leading rusher, the guy that's rushed for 57 touchdowns, playing that level of football in the state of Maryland, the chance to come play (here),'" Locksley, a Washington, D.C., native, told theRams.com last week.
Later that same week, Jake committed to Maryland.
"Once Maryland took their shot on him, we kind of knew, this is where he's going to go and he's going to make something of it," Jordan said.