The ball sails 40 yards into the air. Terrence catches it at the Bulldogs' 20-yard line. Like a rocket-propelled grenade, he explodes through the Pats' kickoff team. Five seconds later, the jitterbug is dancing in the end zone. In an instant, the Bulldogs reclaim the lead: 21-18.

As the team heads to the locker room with a new burst of energy, it's only half a game away from fulfilling a dream the players have harbored for seven years: taking home a title. But spending time with Wallace and his team makes it clear his devotion is about more than just wins on the gridiron.

"This is a special group of kids," Wallace says. "But it's not just football. I stress to them the importance of hitting the books and taking advantage of every opportunity presented to them."

Nay'quan Wright was shot in the chest at practice in 2011. He recovered from the wound to lead the Miami Gardens Bulldogs to a Super Bowl trophy in 2012.
George Martinez
Nay'quan Wright was shot in the chest at practice in 2011. He recovered from the wound to lead the Miami Gardens Bulldogs to a Super Bowl trophy in 2012.
Terrence Horne (left), Wright (center), and Tyquan Thornton (right) are the Bulldogs' fast, hard-hitting stars.
George Martinez
Terrence Horne (left), Wright (center), and Tyquan Thornton (right) are the Bulldogs' fast, hard-hitting stars.

One Wednesday in early December is a typical afternoon for the coach. Lugging their pads, his stepsons charge out the front door of the family's mint-green residence near NW 119th Street and 22nd Avenue. The Floyd brothers, holding chicken sandwiches, pile into Wallace's beat-up white Toyota truck.

His first stop is to pick up Terrence, who lives five blocks away in West Little River, a predominantly black neighborhood where the average household earns just $26,000 a year. Wallace has high hopes for Terrence. "He will play in the NFL one day," Wallace gushes. "He physically dominates whoever is on him."

About 15 minutes later, Wallace pulls into the entrance of dilapidated beige apartments called the Gardens in Opa-locka. Mangled, inoperable automobiles in a junkyard next door tower ominously above the subsidized project. Tyquan, a rail-thin boy with long arms and legs, emerges.

Wallace then pulls into Cedar Grove. Nay'quan comes downstairs, throws his gear into the bed, and hops into the back. After their heartbreaking 2011 season, their last as the Bunche Park Cowboys, Wallace's kids — including the rehabbed Nay'quan — have come back strong under the Miami Gardens Bulldogs banner.

From mid-August through the end of December, five days a week, Wallace's routine is to get up at 5 in the morning, work until 3 in the afternoon, come home for a one-hour rest, and head out at 4:30 p.m. to pick up Nay'quan, Tyquan, and Terrence.

"I'm the only head coach they've ever known," Wallace says. "But it is more than that. I take them to birthday parties, we go on vacations together, and they have sleepovers at my house. We're a family."

After opening the season with a loss to the Miami Gardens Ravens, the Bulldogs reeled off nine straight wins. They beat the Ravens and the Miami Gardens Rams in their first two playoff games. Then came the FYFL's inaugural Super Bowl tournament on November 17. Nay'quan (two touchdowns, including a 45-yard run), Lorenzo (50-yard TD pass), Tyquan (almost 100 yards rushing), Terrence (three touchdowns, including an 80-yard scamper), and the rest of the team walloped the Northwest Broward Raiders 31-6.

After the game, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver presented Nay'quan with an MVP award made out of crystal. He and his teammates also got individual medals and Super Bowl rings, courtesy of Flo Rida.

To get to the Orange Bowl championship, the Bulldogs pounded the Helping Hands Youth Center Bulls of the National Youth Football League 40-6 on November 24. A week later, the Patriots, Super Bowl winners in the Extreme Youth Football League, qualified to play against the Bulldogs in the Orange Bowl by beating the Belle Glade Youth Panthers.

At 1 p.m. on December 8, Wallace and his team poured onto the Florida International University field, pumped to finally claim an Orange Bowl victory; after Terrence's electric run puts them up for halftime, they sprinted into the locker room delirious to finish off the game.

And soon after the second half whistle blows, the rout is on. Terrence adds two more touchdown runs. Nay'quan caps the scoring with a 90-yard run near the end of the third quarter. In the end, the Bulldogs pound the Pats 38-14 to claim their first Orange Bowl trophy.

As Wallace watched Nay'quan and his teammates triumphantly strut onto the winner's stage, he couldn't have cared less about the adults ruining youth football with illegal gambling and violence. "We try to win the right way," Wallace says. "We took our licks and went through some hard times. Now look at us. We're winning."

The Bulldogs' triumphant end to the season masks the looming problems uncovered by ESPN and the Broward Sheriff's Office, many of which have yet to be addressed.

Cops, experts, and some coaches say systemic problems in the leagues and a lack of oversight led to the scandal in the first place. Meanwhile, as medical science brings more evidence to light that concussions in young players can lead to lasting damage, Florida is among 41 states that put tighter controls on the sport.

All in all, youth football has never been in a more tenuous place even as more kids than ever sign up.

Lead BSO investigator Barnes says the leagues should start by making it tougher for convicted criminals to volunteer as coaches. Bivens, for instance, had been found guilty of grand theft auto, possession of marijuana with intent to sell, and carrying a concealed firearm in the 1990s before he founded the Hurricanes. But there was no rule preventing him from starting a team.

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When youth football is done correctly it can be a catalyst for growth. Unfortunately when the leadership is not strong or well grounded, it can also be a disaster. All about strong leadership, a worthwhile mision, setting expectations and enforcing boundaries.

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