Pueblo West High School senior Makai Funaki knows he’ll play college football.
He just isn’t quite sure where.
"I am blessed to say I have offers from colleges already," Funaki said. "I believe this upcoming senior season is crucial to show coaches and colleges what I can do -- that I’m serious about playing at the net level and that I have what it takes to compete."
At 6-4, 220-pounds, Funaki is gifted with the size to block on the offensive line but also has the coordination, skill-set, speed and athleticism to be a pass-catching tight end.
Last season Funaki caught 13 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns, helping lead the Cyclones to an 11-2 record and an appearance in the Class 4A state semifinals.
Helping to add to his resume, two weeks ago Funaki participated in the Blue-Grey Football All-American Super Regional Combine.
"In February, I signed up for the combine after being invited," Funaki said. "It was supposed to be in April, but once COVID-19 started to seriously rise, it was canceled. Normally, they would invite their top performers to the next level regional combine. So, even though that first one wasn't held I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the Rocky Mountain Super Regional Combine."
Blue-Grey was established in 1989 to help prep prospects from around the United States gain more exposure from coaches. The goal is to allow colleges to be able to view data and get an understanding of what prospects may possess.
The combine organizers act as scouts, collecting data from the drills and events held at the combine -- much like the NFL’s combine held in Indianapolis each year.
"They keep a database of the top performers and make their assessments and the raw data available to college coaches," Funaki said. "So it’s a different, indirect way to get exposure -- it’s most effective for those who get the best numbers, and it helps to see the competition."
The organization hosts combines around the country, and many of the nation’s most talented players play in the invite-only Blue-Grey All-American Bowl.
Funaki ventured to the Loveland Sports Park in Denver for the Rocky Mountain Super Regional. There he joined athletes from Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and Utah.
There, he showcased his skills in combine drills such as the 40-yard dash; the 5-10-5 shuttle drill, standing broad jump and the burnout bench press drill at 185-pounds.
He also participated in other drills, such as one-on-ones.
There, he was able to showcase his speed and athleticism that go along with his strength.
"As a tight end, I was able to run routes with the receivers and catch the ball," Funaki said. "We then went into one-on-ones against defensive backs."
Different from other camps or combines, Blue-Grey holds an interview portion.
Funaki said he hadn’t done this before. He said he believes college coaches and scouts will have access to the interview as well as his stats from the combine afterward.
"An interviewer asked me about myself and how I would benefit a college program or team and what strengths I bring to the table," he said. "I guess once the results are published and shared, college coaches also get access to these interviews."
While the goal of the combine was for Funaki to showcase his talents, the senior tight end utilized the experience to learn as well.
He learned more about focus and about the value of being yourself.
"I learned to focus on the few things that I can master that will benefit myself and my team," he said. "And, I learned to just be yourself. Everyone carries themselves differently and that’s really important because some athletes fit with some coaches and their programs and some don’t.
"So, if you’re not yourself, how will you know where you fit?"
Funaki has loved football since he was a little kid, playing flag football briefly at age 7 before moving up to play with bigger, older kids.
He said he remembers staying up late to watch football games whether it was college, NFL or the Super Bowl.
The passion for the sport has only grown since then.
"I outgrew flag football and walked onto a bigger field with bigger kids and a bigger team," he said. "The excitement I got then from putting on pads and putting a hand in the dirt is still me today and stronger than ever."
That passion will lead him to a college football field in just a year’s time.
During the offseason Funaki has continued to work on improving, lifting weights six days a week and attending practice three days a week (for now).
"I’ve worked with my team more recently as well as my trainer Paul Andrada (the owner of the strength and conditioning gym F.A.S.T.) both in his gym on the field," Funaki said. "I’ve put on weight and my strength and route-running have improved greatly during this offseason."
You can reach Luke Lyons, associate editor of The Pueblo West View at LLyons@chieftain.com or by searching @luke_lyons14 on Twitter. Help support local journalism by subscribing to the Chieftain at chieftain.com/subscribenow.