By RICKY LINDSAY, Sports Editor
When Devin Funchess tried on his No. 1 jersey for the first time before taking the field for Michigan’s season opener, the feeling gave him goosebumps.
Then he debuted the new look in front of 100,000-plus with a career-best performance — seven receptions for 94 yards and three touchdowns — in Michigan’s 54-14 win over Appalachian State.
With Funchess officially shifting to wide receiving this winter, he desired a number that better fit the position. He was given the No. 87 Legends jersey prior to the 2013 season to honor legendary Michigan tight end Ron Kramer. But the junior was no longer manning the position and felt the number belonged to a player that does.
So during the offseason, Funchess eyed joining a storied, but rare Michigan tradition: becoming the next Wolverine to don the prized No. 1.
“It was an incredible honor to be selected to wear the number 87 Legends jersey in honor of Ron Kramer,” Funchess said per a team release prior to Saturday’s kickoff. “I spoke with his son, Kurt, and many of my teammates before I decided to change my number and they were all unbelievably supportive. Ron Kramer was the best tight end in Michigan history, and I think his number should be worn by someone playing that position.”
Funchess knew that earning the No. 1 jersey required hard work, so he went toe-to-toe against Michigan’s top defender, Jake Ryan, throughout the offseason to prove his worth.
“I’ve been working hard,” Funchess said. “I asked Jake Ryan, I’ve been working on him all offseason since the winter to ask him. ‘Was working hard? Did I earn it?’ He said yeah.”
After proving his worth in practice for the jersey, the next step was receiving permission from head coach Brady Hoke. But before building up the courage to ask, Funchess needed a bit of schooling. So he watched film of the past Michigan greats that once donned the number.
He watched Anthony Carter, the man who started the tradition with receivers and the jersey. Greg McMurtry followed with a successful career, as did Derrick Alexander and David Terrell. Tyrone Butterfield briefly wore the jersey before transferring from Michigan after two seasons. And Edwards, the most prolific receiver in Michigan football history, was the last to grace the jersey 10 years ago.
Hoke said he quizzed Funchess on the players that donned the jersey after the wide receiver was granted permission for the switch by the Kramer family.
“Believe me, I asked him who has worn No. 1, and he started with Anthony Carter and went down the list, so I think that he earned it,” Hoke said.
Its just another number for Funchess, but with it, he joins an exclusive group. Only six receivers wore the jersey before he debuted it Saturday. And all besides Butterfield had successful careers at Michigan.
Funchess was nearly untouchable against Appalachian State, but when he wasn’t, defenders bounced off his oversized frame with the installation of a stiff arm. He is on the fast track of joining the former legends performance-wise, and he’s beginning to see the difference the number brings.
“A number’s just a number,” he said. “But with this number, it just brings a bigger target for me because of the names that I named and wore that number.”