Nov. 19, 2013
By Daniel Forstot, MGoBlue.com
Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant and Andre Johnson. Not too often are those the first names that come to mind for tight ends in regard to who they model their game after. University of Michigan sophomore Devin Funchess, however, is no ordinary tight end.
In only his second year at U-M out of nearby Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, Mich., Funchess is on pace to break a number of tight end records, at least those that he has not already broken.
With two regular season games and a post-season appearance remaining, the 6-foot-5 matchup nightmare already has set the Michigan program record for receiving yards in a single season by a tight end. He surpassed the 43-year-old mark held by Jim Mandich against Northwestern this past weekend in the team's triple-overtime victory. In addition to this feat, he has been named as one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award, which is awarded annually to the nation's most outstanding tight end.
Over the past year, Funchess has made the transition from a more traditional, in-line tight end to a role that can be described as a "hybrid," in which he spends part of his time split out as a wide receiver or in the slot.
"Playing the hybrid role is different. I played it in high school, but it's different at this level because you have to know so much more," Funchess said. "Whatever position they need me to help out the team, I just try to be the best."
After a freshman season that saw him named to the Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America Team after he accumulated 15 catches for 234 yards and five touchdowns, the coaches were impressed and looked for ways to get Funchess more involved in the offense.
As a result of his hard work and perseverance, Funchess was awarded with a Michigan Football Legend jersey prior to the 2013 campaign. He now dons the No. 87 in honor of 1956 unanimous first team All-American Ron Kramer.
"We were in camp and Coach Hoke came up to me, called my name, and I thought I was in trouble," he said. "In the end, he laid it down to me and said we've got a special number that we want you to wear to honor this great man, Ron Kramer. After I found out, I read up on him to see what he did here and he was a phenomenal athlete. I knew I had to try to hold up his name."
Funchess has done anything but let the honor faze him, as he has used it as motivation to reach new heights.
"At first I thought it was a lot of pressure to have to live up to someone who did so much for this university. He was a nine-letter athlete. He led both football and basketball in scoring. I was kind of overwhelmed by that after I read about him. It was a mind-blowing experience. I just have to try to do what I can to try to match him."
Despite being only a second-year player, Funchess has taken on a leadership role and has taken first-year tight end Jake Butt under his wing. The two tight ends, who room together during the team's road trips, have become very close and the true freshman loves serving as his understudy.
"I have to be patient. I had to wait my turn up here," stated Funchess. "When your time comes, you have to be ready to take off with it," he says he told Butt.
Butt has put Funchess' words into practice, as he caught his first career touchdown last Saturday at Northwestern, hauling in a spectacular one-handed grab in overtime.
"Just watching him, whether it's in the film room or at practice, and having him teach me things he knows, he's a great mentor and a great guy to look up to," says Butt on his roommate. "On the field, he's come a long way. He's a dynamic playmaker all across the board and he's really shown that this year."
Despite how hard Funchess works, he also has a fun-loving personality.
"He's a funny guy in general. He's always clowning around. You can tell by his personality," said the freshman tight end.
But Funchess also loves to play and compete alongside those he considers to be family. The family atmosphere that has been established in Ann Arbor is why he chose to come to Michigan despite the long list of other Division 1 scholarships he was offered.
"My sister goes here, so there's that aspect of it. The coaches also treated me like a family. Mario (Ojemudia), too." Ojemudia, currently a sophomore defensive end at U-M, was a high school teammate of Funchess. "He's like a brother to me."
Despite having played in only 23 games during his career as a Wolverine, Funchess' 918 receiving yards already rank him eighth among tight ends in school history. Through the first 10 games of the 2013 season, he leads all Big Ten tight ends in catches, yards and touchdowns, and currently ranks third among FBS tight ends in receiving yards and fourth in receptions.
And while his list of accomplishments seems to grow each week, the best still may be yet to come for Funchess.
Drew Dileo Feature Story (Oct. 9, 2013)