The Super Bowl LVI will have local Gaithersburg football alumni playing on the field. Zach Kerr, Defensive Lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals, and Jake Funk, Running Back and special teams for the Los Angeles Rams will line up opposite each other on Sunday February 13, 2022.
Kerr, a 2008 Quince Orchard High School Cougar graduate, is a 2007 state football champion and a nine-year NFL journeyman out of the University of Delaware. Funk, a 2015 Damascus High School Hornets graduate, is a multiple state football champion, a 2015 Washington Post All-Met Player of the Year, and an NFL first year player out of the University of Maryland.
Their connections, both have Gaithersburg, Maryland to call as home and yes, both were Terps. Only one of these homies will walk away with a super bowl ring. Each however will have football memories to share over a beer at Dogfish Head Alehouse or Quincy’s and possibly be honored for a day by Gaithersburg’s mayor, Jud Ashman.
It is Friday night October 8, 2022, and a half hour before kickoff at the Cougar Dome and 17 of the 19 Quince Orchard Hall of Fame inductees are on the home team sidelines waiting to be announced.
Two are missing. Larry Hurd, Jr., head football coach at Walter Johnson high school and the other is pro football player Zachariah Kerr. Both had football games to prepare for, Kerr at the time was with the San Francisco 49ers.
Little did anyone know that day that Kerr still had two NFL football career moves in front of him before landing in Super Bowl LVI with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Kerr’s football resume reads like a travel log. Undrafted in 2014 he is signed by the Indianapolis Colts and then over the next nine years will play for the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, San Francisco 49ers and twice for the Arizona Cardinals. He was released on November 6th, 2021, by the 49ers just four weeks after that hall of fame night, then picked up by the Cardinals three days later.
Cincinnati’s defensive tackle Larry Ojurjobi sustained a season ending injury in mid-January 2022. The Bengal’s fill their gap with Kerr off the Cardinals taxi squad on January 19th. Kerr appears on Sunday, January 30th on the field against his former 49ers. The Bengals advance to Super Bowl Sunday after Joe “Joey Franchise” Burrows, the former LSU 2020 National Champion and 2019
Heisman Trophy winning quarterback leads them to a comeback win in overtime.
Kerr has staying power. He has persistence. He had a “village” of support behind him at QO to get him there, prepared for Friday nights and here he is now playing on Sunday, February 13th.
Kerr, the 2021 QO HOF inductee, will be associated with many accolades for lots of different reasons but perhaps his resume should include him as the co-father of “the Movement”, born in 2007 in the QO football locker room along with teammate, Travis Hawkins. I’ll explain.
Kerr signed for former Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen in 2008. His “movement” started in the early Twitter haze days of 2008-09. It was a vocal campaign aimed at DMV high school standouts to stay local and headed towards the Terrapins. His was a big voice. He is now 6’2” and 334 pounds.
Believe it or not, realize it or don’t, Kerr’s “the movement” netted local talent for the Terps. Just at QO, Maryland since 2010, signed defensive all stars such as Alex Twine, Travis Hawkins, Fofie Bazzie and soon to be a Sunday player, Demeioun Robinson.
The DMV talent pool at Maryland has grown since 2009. At the start of the 2021 season it hovered around 60% of the game day roster. Kerr’s influence certainly waned but he was onto something.
In an interesting sidebar connect, Joe Burrows transferred to LSU in May 2018 from The Ohio State University after recognizing that, Dwayne Haskins, quarterback from Potomac’s Bullis Prep was going to step into OSU’s 2018 starting quarterback role. Haskins had previously committed to Maryland but followed his dream to OSU. Haskins, during those high school years (2013-2016) was sought as a “movement” individual. As for “Joey Franchise” Burrows, the rest they say is history.
Kerr’s last game as a Terp was at the Military Bowl on December 29, 2010, and his journeyman career began that next year with a transfer to the University of Delaware.
Jake Funk. What can I say? Only that my Damascus based nephews were spot on right about him.
It’s October 30, 2021, the Terps are playing Indiana for homecoming, and I am in the stands at
Capital One Field at Maryland with my grandson.
During a break in action Maryland runs their video litany of shout outs for “Maryland Pride” by former football stars. Up on the display pops the recently graduated and NFL drafted running back of the Los Angeles Rams, Jake Funk.
He declares his “pride” and the crowd roars with delight. Images of #34 flow on the screen. The crowd response resonates equal to the volume given seconds earlier to Stephon Diggs’ declaration. Indiana fans in the stadium had no clue about “Maryland Pride”.
The “movement” just found its’ newest local DMV hero in #34 Jake Funk.
My brother John will always be a volunteer football coach. He played for John Harvill, Al Thomas and Joe Mencarini at Gaithersburg High School in the 70s’
He coached his sons in the Damascus youth football leagues and eventually followed them and others to help coach at Damascus high school. He told me years after he left coaching that there is one person he’d never bet against – and that was Jake Funk.
Nephew Dominick, being the largest, most vocal, and a former Salisbury University defensive standout, campaigned for me to come up to Damascus more often to see a guy named Jake Funk play. “Bring your camera”, he said. Little did I know at the time.
In the three years that followed as Damascus and Jake Funk ran over the competition, I became an expert at locating him on the field. In 2015, I had probably photographed half of Funk’s Maryland state record 57 touchdowns. The other half that I missed was because I am working MCM Friday Night Light games elsewhere.
Funk’s story line is a little better known.
A Washington Post All-Met First Team and Player of the Year, he holds numerous awards across the state. Throw in records at Damascus and within Montgomery County he becomes part legend and part riddle. His work ethic, desire, and ability to rehab injuries overshadow his size. Funk was a talented offensive and defensive star for Damascus.
Damascus football sidelines that 2015 season were jam packed with reporters and a cadre of photographers.
Together with my news photographer friends from the former Sentinel and Gaithersburg Gazette weeklies we would pre-position ourselves in the Damascus end zone areas. Photographers from the Washington Post would eventually work a game or two where we’d all share Funk stories and chimp action images during games.
Digital game time postings were making an impact upon weeklies and daily newspapers who found it increasingly harder to compete in a print only model thrust against the immediacy of internet postings, Facebook, and Twitter. All of which helped quickly spread Funk’s accomplishments. Despite, all this by 2015 Funk drew little attention among the Division 1 level programs. Wisconsin saw something in him as a defender.
However, he found a follower in Maryland’s offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Mike Locksley. Locksley rejoined the Maryland staff headed by Randy Edsall in 2011 after 10 years at journeyman coaching positions under a variety of coaches including Ralph Friedgen. Locksley has a remarkable knack for finding talent in the DMV.
On October 10, 2015, Locksley took over as Maryland’s interim head coach after Maryland fired Randy Edsall. His first signed recruit was Funk on October 16th. For the 2016 season Maryland by passed Locksley and hired D. J. Dirkin. Locksley headed to Alabama in March 2016 and now Funk was alone without his football godfather.
Funk’s Maryland career had many starts, stops, team tragedy, and personal restarts which includes two redshirt seasons and two ACL injuries. In between Funk found playing time both as a running back and special teams’ player. His rehabs were directed by his brother Dr. Josh Funk of Rehab 2 Perform. Jake would return revitalized and in better condition after each rehab.
During the COVID-19 shortened season Funk lead the BIG Ten in rushing and was second leading rusher in the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards per carry. Despite having eligibility remaining, Funk bypassed playing to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Jake Funk was picked by the Los Angeles Rams in the 7th round of the 2021 draft, 223 overall. The Rams are not noted for an abundance of top round draft pick availability and are rather cautious with whom and what positions they add to their rosters.
One can only wonder what Rams head coach Sean McVay was thinking. What mental ingredients made up the Rams selections on their mock draft board for April 30th, 2021?
Mostly football knowledge, for you see McVay had spent seven years from 2010 to 2016 with the former Washington Redskins (now Commanders) staff, concentrating on offensive coaching positions. Funk was prime time in the Washington Post and the Maryland media swirl during McVay’s tenure with the Redskins.
Was it “the movement” in the DMV that caught Sean McVay’s attention? Hardly. Did Coach Locksley confirm McVay’s intuition on Jake? Certainly.
How about the local high school Saturday sport page coverage he read or Twitter and Facebook feeds that drew his attention? Perhaps in April 2021 it was visual muscle memory that played a closing role in choosing Funk for the Rams.
It really does not matter any longer, for Jake Funk became a 7th round draft pick in 2021 out of the University of Maryland from Gaithersburg and will play in Super Bowl LVI on February 13th.
It is a testament to Funk’s staying power. His persistence. His ability to give a hit as well as take a hit. It is a tribute to his family and that upcounty suburban farming community of Damascus that nurtured and healed him.
Mike Locksley returned to Maryland as head coach in 2018 which helped elevate his first pick protégé to “Maryland Pride” video lore status. It was also Sean McVay, that former Georgia high school quarterback, who must have saw a little bit of himself in Funk.
It was my brother John, the coach, and his football playing sons who clued me in. It was his teammates. Maybe just plan luck.
Like gumbo it’s a little of this and little of that. Certainly, it’s a question I’d like to ask of McVay one day.
One fall night I was asked on the sidelines as to what attracted me to photograph Jake Funk’s actions. I thought for a minute and said I liked the challenge in focusing on his eyes while he ran towards a defender.
For this reminded me of that Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) line: “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky? Well do you, punk?”. And then I pointed the camera lens in that direction of his helmet, he was either going to hit that defender with everything he had or just put on the jets to run by him.
So, on Super Bowl LVI Sunday the choice is either the Cincinnati Bengals or the Los Angeles Rams.
It is not a choice of Zach Kerr or Jake Funk, QO or Damascus.
The winner in some small, measured way is Gaithersburg and Montgomery County. For these two pro players persevered and it started here locally in our schools and our communities.
Will either make the game deciding play?
That is a silly proposition, for they will play having a satisfaction knowing they reached a glory days pinnacle by just moving in the right direction.
Images 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017 & 2022 © Phil Fabrizio | PhotoLoaf Media™
© 2020 Images of Funk Courtesy of University of Maryland Athletics