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

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When Bivens and the other coaches were arrested on October 30, it sent shock waves through both leagues. (The cases are all still pending.) FYFL's chief executive, Lee Prince (who is also known as "Freezy" and works as Flo Rida's manager), and league president Maultsby both denied knowing anything about the illegal ring. They both say the league is clean."We saw how poorly the other league was run," Prince says, referring to the SFYFL. "We're doing things the right way."

Both men said they never would have suspected Bivens of being involved in an illegal ring. "Brandon definitely caught me by surprise," Maultsby says. "I know the good he has done for his program."

Bivens was banned from the league after his arrest. "We have to do right by these kids," Maultsby says.

Barnes, at least, is not convinced the October bust smashed illegal gambling in youth football, nor that Flo Rida's league has any better safeguards in place than the SFYFL. "The publicity has absolutely driven it underground," says the cop, whose investigation found no evidence that Wallace or any other Miami coaches were involved in the ring. "Our investigation is not over by any means."

As for Wallace, he says the busts forced gamblers to stop wagering on little-league games so brazenly out in the open.

"ESPN singled some guys out," Wallace says. "But there are a lot more people gambling on games than those guys. The report makes it look like we are in it for all the wrong reasons. I know I'm here for the kids."

As the Bulldogs run out to receive their last kickoff before halftime, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert III joins FYFL bigwigs Prince and Maultsby to quietly pace the sideline. Wallace, Mathis, and the other coaches yell at their star players to dig in as they wait to receive the Patriots' kickoff.

"We got less than a minute to score," Wallace yells. "Let's show them what we're made of!" In the stands, Nay'quan's mom nervously grips the bill of her Heat cap. "I can't believe we gave up the lead," Gainer says exasperatedly. "These West Miramar boys can play."

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."

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.

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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.