Longform

Miami's Best Youth Football Team Beats Violence, Gambling, Turmoil, and Opponents

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Today, Nay'quan and his 13-year-old brother share a room, sleeping in a bunk bed. Four trophies share space with his Xbox game console, and a teacher's proclamation recognizing Nay'quan as a "Kid of Character exhibiting qualities of responsibility" is taped to his mirror.

As a running back and linebacker, he idolizes the 49ers' Gore and the Ravens' Lewis but admits he prefers defense and will probably pick linebacker in high school. Wallace and Mathis are his two biggest mentors. "Coach Row lets us pick plays we want to run," Nay'quan professes.

When he's not on the field, Nay'quan hangs out at Wallace's house with the core members of the team: the coach's son, Lorenzo Floyd, a 12-year-old who can chuck a tight spiral more than 50 yards; wide receiver and defensive back Tyquan Thornton; and running back Terrence Horne. Tyquan and Terrence are also members of the Miami Gardens X-press, a track-and-field team that took first place in the 12-year-old boys' 4-by-100-meter relay of the 2012 AAU National Junior Olympics last July. They broke the 2005 record time of 48.67 by 5.9 seconds.

"Those kids are my junior Olympians," says Darius Lawshea, their track coach and football speed trainer. "Wait till you see them do their thing on the football field."

Lawshea and Wallace, like the other two dozen coaches, volunteer their time without pay. "My son sees Coach Row as his uncle," Gainer says. "It's a very personal connection between the coaches and the players."

During the seven years coaching this squad, Wallace has had only two losing seasons. Yet they never managed to advance to a league Super Bowl. That all looked to change in 2011, as Nay'quan and his friends were dominating the regular season.

Then came November 3, 2011, a Thursday-night practice before the divisional playoffs, when automatic-rifle rounds sprayed into the team and shattered their season. Moments after Nay'quan was rushed to the hospital, a hysterical friend called Gainer to tell her he'd been killed. "I prayed," she remembers. A few minutes later, Nay'quan's uncle and volunteer coach Chavis Wright called to tell her to rush to Jackson.

She found Nay'quan seriously injured but lucky to be alive. One bullet had hit his upper torso, exiting through his left shoulder and miraculously missing his vital organs. He spent four days in the hospital with his family, coaches, and teammates by his side. "The hospital was full of kids," Gainer says. "There is a lot of love between my son and his teammates."

Two days later, Miami Gardens Police arrested Bivins, who wounded three other people in the spree, for attempted murder, and today he sits in jail awaiting trial. But the Cowboys were still reeling. Parents were scared to let their kids return to Bunche Park. "My son couldn't sleep for two days after the shooting," says Kia Myles, whose boy was on the ground next to Nay'quan. "He didn't want to go back. I wasn't about to let him go back either."

Undermanned and rattled, Nay'quan's squad lost a month later in the semifinal. "It was rough," Wallace says. "I told them death and tragedy happens all the time. It might be tough, but we have to move on, stick together, and work together to make it through."

But recovering from the horrible drive-by and his team's dashed Super Bowl dream was just the beginning for Nay'quan. He had nerve damage in his left arm and needed six months of physical therapy before he was cleared to play football.

"An 11-year-old getting shot by an assault rifle is very painful," Wallace says. "But he didn't miss a beat. He wanted to get back on the field right away."

Little did Nay'quan and his team know, but the shooting was only the beginning of the turmoil his team would see in the next year.


With a thunderous crash, a Broward County SWAT officer hurls a metal hook tied to a rope through the glass door of Red Carpet Kutz barbershop in Lauderdale Lakes, then secures the hook to the iron bars on the door frame. A police truck revs its engine, tugging the rope until the door rips off its hinges. The cops rush past two barber stations, kick down a closet door, and find a secret room, pimped out into a Vegas-style sports gambling den with three booths and tinted windows.

A block and a half away, another police team busts into Showtime Sports, a sporting goods store, where another gaming room is hidden in the back. By the end of the day on Oct. 30, the cops have hauled away $40,000 in drop safes and boxes stuffed with documents proving that the spots were operated by Brandon Bivens and five other coaches of Broward-area little-league football clubs.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.