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Jake Funk's versatility on full display for Maryland football this season

Jake Funk's significance to the Maryland football team — and the repertoire of the 5-foot-11, 202-pound sophomore's talents — were on display in the fourth quarter of last week's 42-39 victory over Indiana.

The first of the reserve running back's two 1-yard touchdowns helped the Terps regain the lead with 14:56 to go. The second made it a two-possession game with 10:14 remaining.

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"The game was very up and down. Being able to come out on top and contributing to our scores meant a lot to me and meant a lot to this team to get that win," Funk said Wednesday.

As one of a few Terps to play on all phases of special teams, Funk also downed fellow sophomore Wade Lees' 51-yard punt at the Indiana 1-yard line with two minutes to go to help secure the homecoming victory.

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Coming off one of his career highlights against Indiana, Maryland punter Wade Lees is becoming a "threat" for the Terps.

Asked what is more satisfying to him as a player, Funk said: "Obviously I'm a running back and I love having the ball in my hands scoring. Just being able to make plays all over the field, they're all special. Being out there and being a guy the coaches trust when the game counts, those are all big, big humbling things for me."

It is all part of Funk's evolution from a two-way star at Damascus to one of the most versatile, and valuable, players this year for Maryland, which plays at Rutgers on Saturday.

"He's one of those guys you could probably pull aside right now and talk to him about another position you want him to play," Maryland coach DJ Durkin said Tuesday. "Just tell him, and he'll go out there and do it, and look pretty good doing it."

It nearly came to that this past spring. A little short on safeties, Durkin and defensive coordinator Andy Buh used Funk at a position he played in high school while also setting a Maryland state record with 52 touchdowns as a senior.

"I'm a team player," Funk said. "If the coaches feel I can contribute to the team in some way, I'm going to try it out. It was fun playing safety for a little bit, but at the end of the day, they needed me more at running back, so it kind of worked out that way. It is cool knowing that the coaches are comfortable putting you in different types of situations."

Funk is one of the most productive offensive players on the team, given his role as a third-string running back behind junior Ty Johnson and sophomore Lorenzo Harrison III.

Funk has 80 yards on 17 carries and has scored four rushing touchdowns, tied with Johnson for the team lead. His only reception this season resulted in a 4-yard touchdown in Maryland's 31-24 win at Minnesota, tying him for second on the team in total touchdowns.

"I think it's a lot instinctual because of the way I've grown up," Funk said of his ability to find the end zone. "The offense we ran back home [a Wing-T] was very much downhill running. We get in those short-yardage situations, you find a crease somewhere and puncture the crease, gain however many yards you need."

While not as fast or shifty as Johnson, Harrison and freshman Javon Leake, Funk has moved into a similar role played last season by former Maryland running back Kenneth Goins Jr. (Gilman).

Just as it did in its season opener at Texas, Maryland showed a potent offense can overcome a shaky defense.

Not that offensive coordinator Walt Bell will label Funk as his short-yardage specialist.

"You don't want to put him in a box," Bell said Wednesday. "You don't want to say that's all he can do. I think for him right now is just making sure we're putting him in positions where he can be successful, outside of what he does normally well. He can do anything that the other guys can do, but kind of where he specifically excels is when you have to run vertical."

Even though Funk was named Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year and The Washington Post's All-Met Offensive Player of the Year as a senior in 2015, it took a coaching change for him to live out his boyhood dream in becoming a Terp.

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Two days after Randy Edsall was fired midway through the 2015 season, interim coach Mike Locksley called Funk to offer him a scholarship.

"The whole coaching staff besides Edsall wanted to offer me. When he got fired, they offered me and I committed later that week," Funk said. "It kind of happened real quick."

The first contact he had with Durkin came the day after the coach was hired and texted Funk, who the previous night had scored seven touchdowns in leading Damascus to a Class 3A state title win over Dundalk at M&T Bank Stadium.

"I remember that meeting like it was yesterday," Durkin said on a teleconference Thursday. "When you look at his stats and his film from high school, he was an extremely productive guy. That was all clear. When you spend two minutes with him, he's very mature for his age, hard-working, determined, has a great way about him. I made it clear to him right away that I wanted him here, I wanted him to be a part of this thing, he's going to be a guy we're going to build it around. And he's been that."

Said Funk: "I came in that weekend with my family and he asked me to enroll early. It was definitely a fresh start for me, and it felt like home."

Funk said his decision to enroll in January 2016 helped jump-start his career.

"You get to come in and get to experience what college football is like, really before everybody else does at your age," Funk said. "You get to experience spring ball, figure out what practices are going to be like, figure out what workouts are going to be like. You get to figure all these things before the season rolls around. You have more time to prepare and really adapt to the change of lifestyle that happens."

Said Durkin: "Week one of being here, you didn't feel he was a freshman. I think more than just the coaches looked at him that way. His teammates, you could actually see how they looked at him. He was almost like a veteran guy on the team when he first got here."

Funk had a productive season as a freshman. Though buried at the bottom of a deep pool of running backs, Funk gained 136 yards on 29 carries, including a season-high 59 yards and his only rushing touchdown on eight carries in the opener against Howard. He carved out a big role on special teams.

"My freshman year in general was a turning point for me," Funk said. "It really was just a big confidence booster. I came into the season like all freshmen — you've got the wide eyes, [thinking,] 'Am I good enough to be at this level?' You get that freshman moment. Being able to play, being able to contribute to the team as a freshman gave me that confidence. I built off that confidence in the offseason."

Johnson, who has become one of Funk's closest friends, knows that the team has confidence in him.

"Jake's done a great job," Johnson said Tuesday. "When he gets the ball, he does what he needs to do, definitely in short yardage and red zone. He displayed last week he can get downhill, he can lower his shoulders, he can run through a guy or two and get extra yardage. On special teams alone, I think he had 20-plus plays. Every single play, he was around [the ball] or create the play. It just shows how versatile he is and how much of a team player he is."

Neither Funk nor Bell was aware that the Terps are 4-0 this season when the sophomore scores a touchdown. Though Funk didn't think that was any coincidence, Bell might now be contemplating new ways to capitalize on that.

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"I'm pretty superstitious. If that's the case, I might have to start drawing up some trick plays to make sure he gets in there," Bell joked.

Maryland (4-4, 2-3 Big Ten) at Rutgers (3-5, 2-3)

When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Where: High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.

Radio: 105.7 FM, 980 AM; Also available on Sirius (126), XM (196), TuneIn Radio App

TV: Big Ten Network

Series: Maryland leads 7-5

What's at stake: The Terps need to build off last week's 42-39 win over Indiana to have any realistic chance of making a bowl game, given that they will finish the season with Michigan at home, Michigan State on the road and Penn State at home. The Scarlet Knights aren't the pushovers they've been since joining the Big Ten, losing the season opener, 30-14, to Washington and recently doing something Maryland has yet to do under Durkin — winning back-to-back Big Ten games, with victories at Illinois and at home over Purdue.

Key matchup: The Maryland running game that was so strong to start the season when the Terps had either sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome or freshman Kasim Hill at quarterback has regained some life the past two weeks despite the fact that sophomore quarterback Max Bortenschlager is not a threat to run. The Terps had 143 yards on 35 carries against Wisconsin and 174 yards and three touchdowns on 40 attempts against the Hoosiers. Rutgers ranks second last in the Big Ten and 84th in FBS in rushing defense, giving up 181.1 yards a game.

Player to watch: Junior running back Ty Johnson has put together solid efforts the past two weeks, gaining 83 yards on 16 carries against the Badgers and 91 yards on 13 carries against Indiana. He was close to breaking a long touchdown run last week, settling for a 46-yard gain. Johnson has run wild against Rutgers his first two years. He had 168 yards on 11 attempts as a sophomore, including runs of 55 and 47 yards, after rushing for 43- and 44-yard touchdowns in his only two carries against the Scarlet Knights as a freshman.

Betting line: Maryland by 2½

Don Markus

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