PALMETTO -- Isyah Funk's retreat to the Palmetto sideline was brief during his first game as a Tiger back on Aug. 31 in Fort Myers. The senior had just spun his way into the end zone from 2 yards out for his third touchdown of the day to give PHS a two-score lead and he went to find his defensive backs coach.
Craig Roundtree looked at Funk and asked if his top defensive back was fresh enough to help the Tigers preserve the lead Funk had just given them on offense.
"Ooh, coach, these legs are cramping up," Funk told Roundtree before jogging back onto the field to help PHS lock down the right side.
His arrival from Chattanooga Central in Harrison, Tenn., has been a blessing for Roundtree and Palmetto. The Tigers (3-1, 1-0 Class 7A-11) were desperate for help in the secondary, where their other starting cornerback is a sophomore, and Funk has jumped right into a starting role. While starting running back Octavious James battled an ankle injury which held him out of that season opener against the Green Wave, Funk was a more than adequate replacement.
Never miss a local story.
He's Palmetto's only regular two-way player and has been one of the Tigers' most important players overall.
"He's in great shape," head coach Dave Marino said. "He's a physical, tough kid and loves to play the game. It's not that difficult for him to go both ways."
But as a senior, Funk is going both ways for only the second time during his high school career. He was a starting cornerback as a freshman and began to transition to running back the next season. By his junior year he was a full-time tailback and one of the best in his county.
After the season he moved with his mother to Parrish so they could be closer to family. Funk was born in Florida and his grandparents already lived in Parrish. Funk began researching the area, the school and especially the football team. He watched highlight videos on Hudl of Jack Allison, Brandon Luckett and former running back Quincy Washington.
He spent spring with track and field - he went to state the year before in Tennessee -- before joining the football team for practices and a summer of 7-on-7, where his combination of size and quickness made him a capable safety despite a lack of instruction. When the Tigers hired Roundtree in July as a secondary coach Funk started to become more than a raw athlete freelancing at corner or safety.
"He's not used to doing a whole lot," Roundtree said. "At running back you're a one-man show. You can cut back, you can do what you want, but within a unit you've got to do what's best within the scheme."
At first he got by on his physicality. Fort Myers tested him with three consecutive throws to the end zone just before halftime in August and Funk broke up all three while Roundtree laughed with an official about the defensive back's poor technique. Funk relied solely on his physical tools and energy to make the plays.
Roundtree also was the coach who insisted Funk get touches on offense. From just the way Funk runs -- "his feet hit the ground so hard," Roundtree said -- the coach could foresee some of his production as a runner.
"If we give him the ball more we have to take him off our defense, and we can't afford to take him off our defense," Marino said. "We're a much different football team with him."
Funk carried the ball 33 times for 177 yards and two scores in PHS' first two games before moving into a more defensive role. He's second on the team in rushing yards and has at least three touches in every game. His four touchdowns are still tied with James for most on the team.
Coming from a Wing T offense at Central, Funk boasts a varied skill set. During practice he works with both the offense and defense. Recently he's taken to some lighthearted punting at the end of the day.
He's happy to do whatever Palmetto needs and his versatility could help him get a scholarship. He's drawn interest from West Florida University, NAIA Cumberland (Tenn.) University and Middle Tennessee, whose Florida recruiter, tackles and tight ends coach Rick Mallory, is the father of Funk's head coach at Chattanooga Central.
While Funk talked about his senior season and his college dreams on the sideline during practice early this week, most of his teammates trudged back to the locker room and Roundtree's whistle chirped in the background. He spends an extra session with his secondary coach most days after practice and it's helping Funk become more than just a defensive back who relies on his athleticism and boundless energy to get by. He's becoming one of the most polished two-way players in the county.
"We get worked a lot down here," Funk said. "We like to joke around, but at the end of the day we get down to business."