Wood’s Funkhouser No Longer A Surprise
Posted: August 26, 2015
By WALT MOODY
WINCHESTER — A man often of few words, James Wood coach Mark McHale had a couple to sum up Ryan Funkhouser’s first varsity season at linebacker.
“He made a bunch of tackles last year,” McHale said.
Yes, he sure did.
Try 130 of them, making him second in the area. His success at finding the ball helped the Colonels to a surprise 5-6 season in which they made the playoffs.
Funkhouser admits even he didn’t expect to make such a big initial impact, but it didn’t take him long to see where he stood on the tackles list and to adjust his goals accordingly.
“At the beginning of the season, yeah, I surprised myself a lot,” said the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder of his junior campaign. “Then, I set some goals and went for them. I didn’t quite reach the one, but we were close.”
Prior to last season, most of Funkhouser’s action had been at the JV level, and a lot of that time was also spent carrying the ball on offense.
He said his remarkable improvement at linebacker — an all-Northwestern District first team pick and All-Conference 21 second team selection — had to do a lot with a change of scenery.
“Really, it was just coming up here,” he said, while pointing to the varsity practice field. “Everything up here is at a different pace. You work a lot harder, do things more in depth and hit a lot harder.”
That pace translates to the field, where varsity athletes perform at a different speeds.
“The speed of the game always changes from game to game,” Funkhouser said. “The hard part is adjusting to that and making your reads quicker or slower or what the need to be. (So far), we’ve got it done.”
Funkhouser believes he has another advantage that most of his competition doesn’t have — he wrestles.
He’s pretty good at it, too.
Last year, he was the starting 170-pounder for the Colonels before a late-season injury took him out of the lineup before the postseason.
The combination of balance, strength, discipline and quick bursts of speed translate from the Resilite to the gridiron.
“I think wrestling helps tremendously with football,” Funkhouser said. “The conditioning with wrestling is like 10 times what this is. You could say, being on that mat with somebody makes for good tackling. It changes your whole mental attitude.”
And while he had to shed some weight for wrestling it hasn’t taken him long to put it back on and in the right places. At 190 pounds, he may not be as big as some linebackers, but he is very strong.
“He’s the strongest player on our team and he’s one of our faster players and he wrestles,” McHale said. “I just think he’s a good all-around tough guy who can run, get to places and do things.”
Funkhouser said the key to being a good linebacker is getting to those right places with authority.
“You’ve got to be able to read the field well,” he said. “You’ve got to know where the ball is at all times. Then it’s, ‘See ball, get ball.’”
And Funkhouser believes he will do that better this fall from his strongside linebacker spot. He believes he’s made significant physical and mental gains since last season.
“I think I’m faster and stronger and I read the ball better,” he said. “That makes for good tackling and getting to where the ball is.”
“Ryan made a lot of tackles (last year), but a lot of them were too deep,” McHale said. “This year, he’s getting up in there and making plays.”
He’s also playing next to someone he trusts inherently in Tyler Bishop. The Colonels’ top rusher is also an outstanding linebacker.
“Those two are back there running our defense,” McHale said of Funkhouser and Bishop. “They’re the quarterbacks of our defense.”
Bishop says he likes playing next to Funkhouser.
“He’s aggressive,” Bishop said. “He flies to the ball. He’s tough and hard-nosed. I just think he’s a good athlete.”
The two also communicate well, having played together at various stages of their careers.
“Communication is key, definitely,” Funkhouser said. “If there’s no communication, then the calls are going to be messed up and things aren’t going to be read right. You could have a pass coming over the middle and if you’re not communicating with your other linebacker things could be devastating.”
“We’re good friends off the field,” Bishop said. “We understand each other pretty well.”
McHale said that Funkhouser, Bishop and defensive end/running back Asa Brewer also understand what it means to set examples for their teammates.
“I call them the Three Amigos,” McHale said. “Those three are doing the job leading this football team.”
Funkhouser believes that the Colonels can surprise people again this fall. He saw first-hand how success bred more success.
“Last year definitely showed the progress that we’re making,” he said. “It opened up everybody’s eyes. Everybody was more enthusiastic, ready to hit, ready to play and we just wanted it more and more and more of the winning.”
One of those wins stands out for Funkhouser. The Colonels trailed 14-0 at halftime against Milbrook, but rallied to take a 21-14 lead. The Pioneers scored a late touchdown and after a penalty had the ball at the 1 for a potential game-winning two-point conversion. The Colonels were able to stop Pioneer standout P.K. Kier just short of the goal line to preserve the victory.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but I can definitely speak for the linebacking corps,” he said of that triumph. “We feed off of games like that. If a game ends like that, it just boosts everybody up and makes everything better.”
Funkhouser, the son of Donny and Tara Funkhouser, enters this season having worked hard to overcome his wrestling injury, a broken right hand.
He spent more than six weeks in a cast, a month of rehab and another of work before he felt like it was finally 100 percent ready.
“I didn’t like it,” said Funkhouser, who will wear a brace on the hand for protection this season. “I hate being hurt and hate having a cast and not being able to do anything.”
He tried to make up for lost time this summer.
“My whole summer is spent here, or like 90 percent of it at least,” Funkhouser said. “Then from when school starts until the end of the season, it’s football, football, football. As soon as football ends, I’m in the wrestling room.”
Funkhouser, a honor student with a GPA between 3.7 and 3.8, is not sure whether he’ll wear shoulder pads or a singlet in college. He hasn’t decided on a major, but is leaning toward engineering (math is his favorite subject) or criminal justice.
One thing he is sure of is that he’ll be wearing No. 45 this fall.
That’s in honor of his brother Daniel, who was a linebacker and H-back for the Colonels.
“My brother in his years here wore No. 45 so I figured I’d step in and fill his shoes,” Ryan said of Daniel, who graduated in 2014. “He made me proud and I want to make him proud filling his number out and I didn’t want anybody else in it.”
Even with all of those tackles last season, Ryan says his career highlight came as a sophomore.
“The last varsity game (Daniel) played, I got asked to come up from JV,” he said. “I got to play side-by-side with him. There wasn’t a better feeling than that. It was awesome.”
Like his brother, he may get some plays on offense. He was a tailback on the JV team.
“This year I’m starting to get introduced back into the backfield,” Funkhouser said. “I definitely missed playing offense, That was fun and it was always a big adrenaline pump, especially if you scored a touchdown. But defense has always been my favorite. I love playing defense.”