The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 105 slip away that day. Funchess, though, wasn't having it. "I kind of relaxed when it came to the easy stuff, and I've got to get out of that habit of re- laxing," he said. "Once I do that I feel like the world is mine. I get in that zone, very focused on it and I can do whatever I want. "I hear it from people all the time, they call me 'Mini Megatron' or something after [De- troit Lions wide receiver] Calvin Johnson. I try to take what he has at his size, use some [Chi- cago Bears wide receiver] Brandon Marshall, some [Houston Texans wide receiver] Andre Johnson … and try to put all that in me to be the best I can be. I want to work so nobody my size can do what I can do. In the future, the way people look at Calvin, I want people to compare someone to a Funchess, but that it won't be possible because they don't have the same drive or same athletic ability as me. "I want to be looked at as one of a kind." If that sounds cocky — well, it wouldn't be the first time he was characterized that way. Funchess spent a good part of two years trying to convince Herrington that's not who he was — that it wasn't cockiness, just a high level of confidence he needed to help attain the goals and aspirations he set for himself. It took wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski some time to adjust, too. Going from tight end coach Dan Ferrigno's laid-back approach to Hecklinski's high-energy style created an ad- justment period for player and coach, Funch- ess admitted, but the veteran is earning his coach's confidence. As the oldest of a talented group of re- ceivers, the junior will be expected to do more than catch passes. Hecklinski believes Funchess has it in him to be the leader Jeremy Gallon was before he departed after a huge season. "Devin will assume that role just fine," Hecklinski said. "Devin will help define that role. When we got here, Junior Hemingway started to create it for us. The next year, Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon started to take Junior's lead. Last year, Jeremy really started to recreate it. Then you have Devin, who should help recreate and define what the role is. "The move from tight end has been great. He's a lot bigger target. But it's not only on Funchess. We've got Amara Darboh back, and Freddy Canteen has been doing well — Jehu Chesson, as well. It's going to be a lot easier for Devin than it was for Jeremy, since we have a lot of different weapons who have played some football and understand a lot." Like Durant, though, Funchess is unique, and some might even say a freak of nature in his own right. He clocked a hand-timed 4.33 40-yard dash coming out of the spring — at 6-5, 230 pounds — and took it upon himself to share the message Gallon passed on to him: to play every play like it's their last. "I take some of last year as my fault be- cause I was inconsistent with my hands and sometimes with my blocking," he said of the 7-6 campaign. "I put that on me." A Drive To Succeed The spring, then, was a time for healing as much as anything. He progressed, though he wasn't satisfied with his performance in the final practice at Michigan Stadium in front of the fans. His own goals — 100 yards per game on average — are part of a bigger team goal to help restore faith in the brand. The Wolverines haven't won a Big Ten title since 2004, and accomplishing that is goal No. 1. "That's very important," Funchess said. "The tradition about our legacy, that's still holding us up, but these recent years haven't really held up since the Sugar Bowl year [of 2011]. We need to get that back so we can get the recruits here who can continue the tradi- tion that Michigan has. "Coach [Brady] Hoke is always joking with me to keep my head on straight, do the right things, don't make mistakes or anything to hurt the team. I know I have to grow up and be that leader for this offense … I'm going to embrace that and do what I'm sup- posed to." In some ways, he's still sorting things out. On one hand, he's the strong-willed personal- ity who doesn't see eye to eye with his sister, Courtney, also a student at Michigan. On the other, a day after bawling her out he's driv- ing her to the airport at 3 a.m. for her study abroad in Costa Rica. He also downloaded an app to make sure he'd be able to stay in touch with her while she was gone. "I had to Google it to make sure it was safe and that she was all right," he added with a nod. Though there are still family challenges, his relationship with his mother has im- proved. She eventually married that former little league coach and Funchess' mentor, Phillip Fields, with whom Funchess lived in high school, while his father has made the ef- fort to re-enter his life, hoping to see his son achieve the goals he couldn't. Among the goals at the top of Funchess' list is to make sure the people closest to him know he's there for them. "I want to make sure everybody has what they want because of what happened to me," he said. "From there I got that drive — that's never going to happen to me again when I get to where I'm going, whether it's the NFL or with my college degree." He's well on his way to both, never to take either — or anything else in life — for granted. ❑ The Nation's Top Big Receivers 1. Ty Montgomery (6-2, 216), Stanford: Montgomery is big and fast, perhaps the best combination of both in the country. He notched 61 catches for 958 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, and also proved his versatility in returning two kickoffs for scores and averaging 30.3 yards per return. He's projected to go high in next year's NFL Draft. 2. Devin Funchess (6-5, 230), Michigan: Simply put, there aren't many like him. Funchess has the tools to be one of the best overall receivers in the country after catching 49 passes for 748 yards and six touchdowns last year, and he should be an automatic go-to guy in the red zone. He's faster than people realize, but he now has to be more consistent and eliminate the drops, while also becoming a better blocker at the wide receiver position. But the sky is the limit. 3. Austin Hill (6-3, 215), Arizona: Perhaps the best big re- ceiver in the country, Hill missed all of 2013 due to an ACL injury. He chose to pass up the NFL Draft for one more year of college ball, and the Wildcats will benefit from his return. He caught 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore in a breakout season, averaging 16.8 yards per catch. That included an incredible 10-catch, 259-yard game in a win over USC. 4. Sammie Coates (6-2, 201), Auburn: Not the biggest of the big receivers, Coates plays larger than his frame and has emerged as one of the nation's top big-play threats. He caught 42 passes for 902 yards and seven touchdowns last season and was third in the nation in yards per catch (21.5), while also averaging 54.1 yards per touchdown catch. Coates also notched 14 receptions of more than 30 yards. 5. DeVante Parker (6-3, 215), Louisville: The third-year junior isn't a blazer, but he has 4.5 speed and great acceleration. He has the ability to go up and get the ball, can out-jump most defensive backs, and proved himself last year with 55 receptions for 885 yards (16.1 yards per catch) and 12 touchdowns. His consistency is the only question mark. There are games in which he'll dominate, then others in which he'll disappear, and there are times his concentration is lacking, leading to drops. — Chris Balas Ty Montgomery hauled in 61 receptions for 958 yards and 10 touchdowns for Stanford in 2013. PHOTO COURTESY STANFORD 102-105.Devin Funchess.indd 105 6/19/14 8:53 AM

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