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ANN ARBOR — Devin Funchess had made his decision. He didn’t need any more incentive to commit to the Michigan football program. He’d already done so in the spring of 2011.
Still, as a high school senior, he traveled from Farmington Hills, Mich., to Ann Arbor for a historic moment in the rivalry between Michigan and Notre Dame.
Funchess was one of the many recruits who were at the first night game at Michigan Stadium on Sept. 10, 2011, and watched UM rally to a 35-31 win on Roy Roundtree’s touchdown with two seconds left.
“What do I remember about it?” Funchess said. “The last minute. I thought we’d lost the game. The atmosphere was wild. Just crazy. The last minute-plus was amazing.”
On Saturday, the sophomore tight end will be part of another benchmark in the history of the rivalry: what could be the last game at Michigan Stadium between the two teams, as the series will go on hiatus after the 2014 matchup in South Bend, Ind. Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said Wednesday that he isn’t planning to contact Notre Dame in regards to resuming the series in the future.
Saturday will be Funchess’ second appearance in the rivalry game, this year as Michigan’s top returning tight end.
“I feel a lot more prepared for this season,” said Funchess, who had two catches for 47 yards last weekend against Central Michigan. “Through the winter, spring, summer, it’s about getting more reps in, mental reps, just getting ready. Mental reps are a lot better than physical reps, because you can go through that all day long. You know you’ll be prepared with what you have to do.”
In his debut last season against Air Force, Funchess had four catches for 106 yards, the first 100-yard receiving game for a UM tight end since Jerame Tuman in 1997. Funchess finished his first season with 15 catches for 234 yards and five touchdowns. He had two catches for 47 yards in the Wolverines’ season-opening win over Central Michigan.
Prior to this season, offensive coordinator Al Borges said Funchess’ role is part of the progression of the offense.
"Because we've recruited to it, we feel a lot better about it,” Borges said. “When we came in it wasn't a position of emphasis, so we kind of made do with what we had. But now that we've had a chance to recruit to it, we feel a lot better about it."
At 6-foot-5, 235-pounds, Funchess brings height and size to the position and provides a lengthy option for quarterback Devin Gardner — a factor that will come into play, given that the top two receivers, Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo, don’t stand over 5-10.
His height — and weight — could play a role against Notre Dame and its front seven on defense, which includes nose guard Louis Nix and defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who had 12 sacks in 2012 (10 sacks, four assisted).
“With the blocking and play-action, I feel like that will help out more,” Funchess said. “Their front seven is hard to beat, with all of their returning starters. They were good last year, and they’re probably going to come back better this year.”
Funchess is one of three players wearing "Legends jerseys," designated prior to the start of the season. Funchess will wear No. 87 for the remainder of his time at UM in honor of Ron Kramer, a two-time All-American tight end in the 1950s.
“Ron was a tremendous athlete, maybe the best athlete ever to play at the University of Michigan,” Hoke said. “We wanted to keep it within that position. If you look at the tight end position, we don’t have any older guys. I think [Devin’s] growth that we’ve seen as a staff has been very special.”