Carolina Panthers wide receiver Devin Funchess has learned at 24 years old to stay present in whatever moment he’s in. To stay thankful.
He jokes that, since he was raised by his grandfather in Michigan, he’s been an old man his entire life. That’s how he got this perspective.
But it goes a little deeper than that.
Take Wednesday morning, in the already-sticky Spartanburg sunshine as the Panthers checked in for training camp at the Wofford College dorms.
Funchess took the familiar drive down Interstate 85 from Charlotte to Spartanburg, and was right behind a serious car accident in which he said he saw two vehicles flipped over.
“I was literally sitting there at a standstill,” he said. “I parked my car, got out, talked to the lady behind me. I didn’t know what was going on. Two cars flipped over and it’s just a blessing that I’m here. ... I mean it’s sad. The ambulance (had not gotten there) yet. I hope the people are alright.”
Staying present and keeping life in perspective will be especially important for Funchess this year.
A ‘prove-it’ year?
Funchess is on the final season of his rookie deal, and the market for his position was inflated by free agency last spring. The Panthers could make a deal with Funchess a priority in training camp. Or, they could wait and see how much he produces this season.
After Carolina traded Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo last October, Funchess moved into the “X,” or “No. 1”, position and thrived. His career-best body of work came in the five-game stretch immediately after Benjamin left. Funchess averaged 81 yards per game and 17.86 yards per catch.
“Devin really made huge strides last year,” said general manager Marty Hurney. “And he hopes to continue to do the same this year.”
But because he only moved into the top receiver position in October, and because his numbers dropped sharply near the end of the season because of a shoulder injury, the Panthers might consider this to be a “prove-it” year for Funchess.
“It’s a continued development year,” said Hurney. “You want to see a guy put back-to-back years together.”
So it’s understandable that Funchess is trying to focus on putting up big numbers this year, and not on the numbers on his paycheck.
Funchess joked that the song he was humming as he walked up to the scrum of reporters was “It’s All About the Benjamins.”
But he also said he wasn’t even distracted by the potential of a long-term deal when his good friend, Rams running back Todd Gurley, told him about getting his market-setting four-year, $60 million deal this week.
Getting big money isn’t even among Funchess’ three stated goals for 2018.
“I’m out here to play football,” he said. “Don’t act brand-new. I focus on strictly football and that part has nothing to do with me. If they want to (get a deal done), they can.
“But I was with Todd the whole weekend. ... He didn’t know his deal was coming. He got a blessing. ... It’s all fine, but I’m out here to play football, work with (new offensive coordinator Norv Turner), work with the rest of the wide receivers, and talk a little trash to (Panthers linebacker) Thomas Davis.”
While he might not be dwelling on the idea of a long-term deal, Funchess has certainly been preparing this offseason as if he wants to have a monster year.
Instead of going home to Michigan, he went to train in Miami. There, he was joined by quarterback Cam Newton and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown. The workouts and throwing sessions, footage of which Newton and Brown posted frequently on Instagram and Twitter, were grueling.
Funchess then joined Newton in Atlanta before taking a brief break to attend the ESPY awards last week in Los Angeles while the other receivers were in Baltimore.
That event that got him out of his shell and onto the red carpet, decked out in clothing he hand-picked that drew compliments from many players around the league.
Funchess is a homebody who doesn’t normally enjoy that type of event; he even made sure he wasn’t captured on the many cameras around during workouts with Newton and Brown in Miami and Atlanta.
However, the cameras will follow him around if he has a breakout season in Carolina this fall and becomes one of the premiere receivers in a talent-heavy conference.
But, as usual, Funchess tries to stay grounded. Seeing that car accident on his way into camp reinforced his perspective.
“I’m just blessed to be here,” he said. “It’s a blessing just for me, just to be here. If it comes, it comes. I don’t have time to be worrying about anything else.”