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

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As of March 8, 2012, 41 states, including Florida, had passed laws protecting student-athletes from returning to play too soon after a concussion. Some people, like Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and professor at Boston University School of Medicine, go even further. Cantu believes boys under age 14 should not be playing tackle football at all.

"The young child is particularly vulnerable to brain injury," he told a Boston television station in November. "We believe that kids under the age of 14 should not play collision sports as they are currently played."

But others argue that that's too drastic. "You want parents and coaches to be aware of the problem, but you still want kids to go out there and enjoy their sport," says Gillian Hotz, director of concussions for the UHealth Sports Medicine facility at the University of Miami's Medical School. "Obviously, a kid who comes home from practice or a game dazed and confused shouldn't go back to play until he is cleared by a physician, which is why we got the law passed in Florida."

Strickland, the CEO of the Sports Concussions Institute, concurs. "You [reduce concussions] by raising awareness and educating coaches and parents to look for signs... But I don't think eliminating the sport in absence of empirical evidence is the answer."

As for Nay'quan, his only focus is on the game. When he and his teammates reach high school in three years, he wants the team to stay together. "We want to go to Miramar High," he says. "We'll see if Coach can help make that happen."

While his mom constantly worries her son will get severely injured or develop health problems, she's not going to let him quit.

After all, how can she tell a kid who survived an assault-rifle attack that knocking helmets on the field is too dangerous a risk?

"Football is dangerous," she says. "I worry about him because he is determined to become an NFL player. He went from being too scared to play to wanting to be the most famous athlete in the NFL. We'll see."

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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.