Nephew of Villagers days away from debut In the NFL

Jake Funk with aunt and uncle, Judi and Lou Laurento

Judi and Lou Laurento, of the Village of Fernandina, watched the 2021 NFL draft as many did, surrounded by family and friends with plenty of food and conversation.

But there were two major differences between the Laurentos’ watch party and most others.

Many hold their gatherings in conjunction with the first round on Thursday night — this party instead was on a Saturday for the draft’s final day.

And most other gatherings don’t have an NFL draft pick sitting in the room.

The Laurentos were there to witness their nephew, running back Jake Funk, get selected in the seventh round by the Los Angeles Rams.

“We had 100 people or so on the Wi-Fi. Jake actually had problems connecting with (the Rams general manager),” Judi said. “His agent called him right before the Rams had that pick and said, ‘Hey I

 have Les (Snead) on the phone and he can’t get through to you.’ and Jake’s like ‘Oh my God!’”

Funk eventually got through his connection problems and spoke with the Rams, who picked him 233rd overall.

Uphill climb

While getting drafted was a tremendous accomplishment for the Laurentos’ nephew, he faced an uphill climb to make the Rams’ roster as a late draft pick.

In high school, Funk was rated as a three-star recruit by recruiting databases 247 Sports and Scout in addition to being named the 2015 Maryland Gatorade Player of the Year. Judi Laurento said Funk was not recruited by every team as a running back - Wisconsin was one of the teams that wanted him to play linebacker.

Funk eventually committed to the Maryland Terrapins as a running back and saw at least some action in every season there. Unfortunately for Funk, he tore his ACL in back-to-back seasons in 2018 and 2019.

Judi and Lou visited Funk after his surgeries and witnessed first-hand how badly he wanted to get back out on the field.

“He always presented a very humble, quiet determination, and had a high level of perseverance,” Lou said. “That kind of set him apart.”

In 2020, in his final season as a Terrapin, Funk saw his most carries and rushing yards even with a shortened season. In four games, Funk ran 60 times for 516 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught 10 passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.

On top of his athletic accomplishments, Funk was also a three-time academic All-Big Ten member.

Close family

The Laurentos said they always attend Funk’s first game at a new level as well as any other big games. They were at his first youth game, his first high school game, his first college game, and they even made the trek to Los Angeles last month to see their nephew in his first NFL preseason game.

One of their favorite moments was when Jake and his brother played together and won the Maryland high school football state championship.

Funk isn’t the only athlete in his family. Funk’s mother, A’Lisa, his father, Jim, his grandparents and his brothers were all collegiate athletes as well.

With how important athletics are in the family, Judi and Lou wanted to be there as much as they could for everyone, not just Jake. But the connection they have with their nephew is special.

“We come from a very close-knit Funk family. (Jake and his brother) have been in our life forever. We see them quite a bit,” Judi said. “In fact, Jake refers to us as four parents instead of two.”

Funk has even visited his aunt and uncle here in The Villages.

“He thinks it’s paradise here,” Lou said. “He loves the whole nature of how it’s set up with the golf carts and how athletic people are and very active. He was really impressed.”

The road ahead

Seventh-round draft picks are always long shots to make an NFL roster, but as the preseason wound down, Funk felt like he had a good chance to make the Rams’ 53-man group. He flashed with seven carries for 56 yards in the second preseason game and with presumed starting running back Cam Akers lost for the season to injury, Funk seemed to be closing in on an NFL spot.

Rams head coach Sean McVay famously doesn’t play starters in preseason games, and when Funk didn’t play in the final preseason game, according to his aunt, that was a good sign.

On the day the NFL had teams cut their roster down to 53 players, Judi received a call from her brother and sister-in-law to inform her that Jake made the team.

Their nephew who they had seen grow up from diapers to playing football games in the backyard had made it to the NFL.

“It’s pure joy for me,” Judi said. “To watch somebody who is so dedicated and such a good person. He’s just a good guy in every way. Everything he went through, we talk about the darkness before the light. He had a little darkness before the light. So for me, it’s a joy.”