Over the weekend the Carolina Panther’s wide receiver, Devin Funchess came back home to host his youth summer camp at Harrison High School in Farmington Hills, Mich. This is a community event he’s put together for a third year in a row for kids of ages 5 to 13-years- old.
During the 11 a.m. registration, I was able to get ahold of Funchess for a short interview about the purpose of events such as the one he was holding.
“Just to give back to the community,” says Funchess. “It’s just to tell kids they can come out and have fun at a free event and to instill discipline and respect in them, and keep them in school and off the streets.”
This year over 250 kids showed up excited to meet the football star and to participate at the camp from 12-4 p.m. Luckily Funchess had assistance from seven of his friends who currently play football for the University of Michigan, including Donovan Peoples-Jones, David Long Jr., and Tarik Black.
Devin, now going into his fourth year of playing professionally, said he decided to invest in his community the moment he was drafted as a second round pick.
“I trademarked ‘Funch Bunch’ when I just got in because I thought it would be a good thing to do. I’m all about the community and the kids-- you’re safe with me, you can learn and have fun. I’m a good mentor and big brother.”
Devin started his rookie season back in 2015 with the Panthers and made his preseason debut against the Buffalo Bills later that August.
“I already knew I was going to go to the NFL because of the work I put in,” says Funchess. “But I was happy I was drafted, it was a goal checked off my list.”
During that first season, the Panther's primary receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, tore his ACL at training camp, leaving the team to depend on Devin to take over as a consistent target for Cam Newton. You’d think a big responsibility like that would put a lot of pressure on a rookie, but Devin disagreed.
“It was the family aspect of it—nobody was too selfish, it didn’t matter who caught the ball, everybody’s numbers that year were phenomenal and when you have a team atmosphere like that, it gets kind of easy and it took a lot of pressure off of me.”
Compared to his first year, Devin believes he’s improved greatly as a player. However, he still believes he can improve in some areas.
“I have to continue to work my keys, work technique, and work everything else.” He says. “ I want to be a better leader—a better vocal leader.”
As part of being a better leader, Devin has also reached out and interacted with his hometown community in other ways besides having youth camps.
“I got a 7 on 7 program that I’m a part of with rising stars, and then I got my ‘Funch Bunch’ team,” says Funchess. “I try to make sure they get to visit colleges and make sure they get into the colleges with the coaches, and get out in the world so they can be seen to get the scholarships they need to go to school.”
The NFL player says that he helped send around 35 to 45 students to college last year on Division 1 and 2 offers.
After five minutes of speaking with this 6’4 225 lbs. athlete, I realized how genuinely humble and giving he is. With so much talk about the community and caring for the youth, I concluded our short interview by asking him to offer advice to aspiring football players. In that southern accent he’s acquired since moving his life to Carolina, he says something that could possibly be life changing for any youngin’ reading this.
“Work ethic; I tell my little cousin all the time, you have to out work the guys that’s older than you and the same age as you just to get to your level,” he says. “I worked every day—late, morning, afternoon, at the peak of the sun, and I just couldn’t be stopped. So you have to be a student of the game, you have to get good grades, respect your parents because without them you wouldn’t be in the world and keep grinding.”
And as far as facing challenges, Devin gave the ultimate advice that anyone should hear.
“Our motto in Carolina is ‘keep pounding,’ I took on that and just kept on going,” says Funchess. “There are always challenges: injuries, off the field stuff, family, but you just have to keep that at the back of your head and keep moving.”
The camp came to an end at 4 p.m. with kids asking for autographs and giving many thanks to Funchess for having a great event. Devin took his time through the crowd of kids and parents, taking pictures, talking and shaking hands. And even then he proved his self to be the perfect role model.