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Sun Valley star wants to shine even brighter

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/20/20/52/BBidS.Em.138.jpeg|197
    Diedra Laird - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
    Sun Valley's Albert Funderburk rushed for 2,100 yards last season and led Union County but he had an awful start last year at Memorial Stadium vs. Charlotte Christian when he got less than 10 yards rushing. The D1 recruit can't wait for another chance to play at Memorial -- Thursday vs. Hough.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/20/20/52/yW9rd.Em.138.jpeg|222
    Diedra Laird - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
    Sun Valley's Albert Funderburk rushed for 2,100 yards last season and led Union County. The D1 recruit can't wait for another chance to play at Memorial -- Thursday vs. Hough.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/20/20/52/1c2mLH.Em.138.jpeg|412
    Diedra Laird - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
    Sun Valley Head Football Coach Tad Baucom

MONROE A year ago, Sun Valley High running back Albert Funderburk couldn’t wait to play at Charlotte’s Memorial Stadium.

The Spartans were to face Charlotte Christian. Coming from Union County, Funderburk saw a chance to shine on a big stage against one of Charlotte’s premier football programs. Only it didn’t happen the way he planned. Christian, which would go onto an undefeated state championship season, ruined his junior-season debut.

Funderburk had 3 yards in the first half. Charlotte Christian led 28-0 in the third quarter and began substituting liberally before winning 28-19.

“It wasn’t the half I wanted,” said Funderburk, whose team will return to Memorial Stadium on Thursday to play another Mecklenburg County team, Hough. Kick off is 5:30 p.m.

“This year, it’s a big opportunity to play there (at Memorial) again. I want to give it everything I’ve got.”

Late in last year’s game against Charlotte Christian, Funderburk showed why he’s considered a major college recruit. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he’s been timed at 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash and is strong enough to squat 540 pounds and bench press 290.

He finished the Charlotte Christian game with 16 carries for 49 yards and two catches for 99. With less than two minutes to play, he turned a routine screen pass into a spectacular 84-yard score, running around and past Knights defenders en route to the end zone.

That’s the kind of play he hopes to display against Hough, a team ranked No. 4 in the the Observer’s preseason Sweet 16.

“Honestly,” he said, “I want to rush for 3,000 yards this year. I hope (Thursday) is a start. I want to do whatever’s best for my team and go all out and win our Southern Carolina Conference and go to state. Man, I just want to go out with a bang.”

Funderburk, 18, burst onto the scene as a sophomore, when he ran for 2,032 yards and 24 touchdowns. Last season, he ran for 2,137 yards and 16 touchdowns. With 4,737 career yards, he should snap the 20-year Union County rushing record of 4,948 held by former Forest Hills star Anthony McNeely.

“Albert’s a shifty kind of runner with pretty good size,” Sun Valley coach Tad Baucom said. “He’s strong. He doesn’t shy away from contact. We’re actually trying to get him to shy away from that part (taking so much contact) to preserve himself.”

Funderburk has seen much change in his Spartans career. Baucom is the school’s third coach in two seasons. Scott Stein resigned just before the 2013 season and Paul Hall coached the team to a 7-5 record.

“You get used to one guy,” Funderburk said, “and next time you turn around, there’s somebody else in your face. But I believe coach Baucom is the guy. The first day he was here, he started changing the weight room and started helping people – just like he said he would. That went a long way.”

Baucom has been in Union County for 19 years. He was coach at Monroe for 12 seasons and led the Redhawks to the 1989 N.C. 2A championship game. He coached two of the best players in Union County history – Richard Huntley and Terry Witherspoon.

Huntley played at Winston-Salem State and professionally with Detroit, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and Carolina. Witherspoon played at Clemson and with Dallas.

One of the bright spots in his new job, Baucom said, is getting to coach Funderburk, who has similar talents to those Huntley and Witherspoon displayed in high school.

“Terry was a big blocking back and Richard was just this chiseled guy, like 230 and just huge,” Baucom said. “Albert is more of a slasher. His tools are a little different. He’s more of a combo guy with power, but like them, he can get the job done.”

Funderburk grew up playing youth football and watching his brother, Justin, star at Parkwood High, where he was a 1,000-yard rusher and conference-champion sprinter in track.

“I always wanted to be better than him,” Funderburk said.

Albert Funderburk – who has a scholarship offer from Northwestern and interest from N.C. State, Wake Forest and Duke – has done a few things his brother didn’t.

He became the first Union County sophomore to rush for 2,000 yards, helping his team to the 2012 N.C. 4A quarterfinals. Funderburk rushed for five touchdowns in a 56-35 road win against a previously unbeaten South Caldwell.

Last season, he again rushed for more than 2,000 yards – and now has the county record in his sights. He wants to get the chase off to a good start Thursday.

“Last year, I didn’t get to shine the way I wanted to,” Funderburk said. “This year, I’m hoping to come out stronger and I’m trying to shine. Our whole team is.”

Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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