Michigan receiver Funchess shouldering high expectations
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Devin Gardner didn't even blink.
When the Michigan quarterback was asked how good teammate Devin Funchess might become, he answered without hesitation: "I think he can be the best wide receiver to ever play here."
Few schools pound history into their players like Michigan — Gardner himself wears the No. 98 jersey in honor of Tom Harmon — so the senior realized exactly how high a bar he was setting for Funchess, the towering junior from suburban Detroit.
One of the other Michigan Legends jerseys is No. 21 in honor of Desmond Howard, one of the few wide receivers to ever win the Heisman Trophy. Funchess has switched to No. 1, which isn't part of the legends program, but is iconic in its own right, thanks to Anthony Carter, David Terrell and Braylon Edwards.
So "best wide receiver" at Michigan is a huge expectation to put on a teammate, especially one who is in his first full season playing the position. Funchess came to Ann Arbor as a tight end, and only mixed in some wide receiver snaps last season.
Funchess symbolized the change in his position with his new number, switching from the No. 87 that he wore in honor of Ron Kramer — Michigan's greatest tight end — to a number that symbolizes excellence at his new spot.
"I watched film of all those guys — Anthony Carter, David and Braylon — before I even talked to coach (Brady) Hoke about it," he said. "He told me to talk to the Kramer family, and they were fine with it, and then Coach quizzed me about all the guys that had worn No. 1, and I was ready for that."
What makes Gardner so confident in Funchess' success? After all, as a tight end/wide receiver last season, he only had 49 catches for 748 yards and six touchdowns, while Jeremy Gallon was putting up huge totals on the other side of the field.
Last weekend, Funchess became the first Wolverine to catch three touchdown passes in a season opener, and he had them before halftime. Even against an overmatched Appalachian State defense, it was clear that, as a wideout, Funchess has the physical abilities to give opposing coordinators nightmares.
At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, with the strength and speed added by Michigan's conditioning staff, Funchess is turning into the Big Ten's version of the man who plays a short drive down I-94 — Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions.
"The way he has practiced and prepared for this season, Devin is clearly taking his game to the next level," said offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. "That's what great players do. They challenge themselves every day to get better, and he's going to keep getting better as he masters his craft. How good can he be? He's got a very high ceiling."
Funchess knows that things will be a lot harder Saturday night at Notre Dame, where he expects to see a lot of safeties covering him alongside the cornerbacks.
"They are going to play me differently than Appalachian State did, but that's OK," he said. "That's going to open up things for our other wide receivers and tight ends, which will be good for the team. And I'm going to be ready to make as many plays as I can."
Howard kicked off his Heisman campaign with a spectacular diving catch to help Michigan beat Notre Dame. Twenty-three years later, Funchess will get a chance to break into the national spotlight in the last scheduled game between the same two opponents.
Note: Hoke said sophomore OL Kyle Bosch of St. Charles, Illinois, has taken a leave of absence for an undetermined amount of time for personal reasons.