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Hard work and talent is paying off for some local football players and the ultimate goal is to bring home a championship, and as the groundwork is still being laid, the Grass Roots Football League is hoping to change the perception of Maryland football and to prove that its players can compete with the top teams in the country.

Nine local seventh-graders are packing their suitcases and heading for San Antonio, Texas to help Team Maryland compete in the second annual Football University National Championships, which will take place Jan. 6 at the Alamodome following the Army All-American Bowl. The teams started competing for the opportunity to qualify Dec. 1 on football fields all across the United States. Maryland’s eighth-grade team was just one win away from moving on.

On Jan. 4, Orange County, Ca. will challenge Northwest Louisiana while Maryland will take on South Florida. The winners will then advance to a single-elimination tournament and one team will eventually be crowned.

Terrence Byrd will be the head coach for Team Maryland. Emmett Clark has played a vital role as the team’s director.

State director for Team Maryland Mike Anderson said he knows Maryland will be facing a competitive team in Florida, but he’s confident after viewing the team on film that Maryland has what it takes to win.

“This is our opportunity to play the best of the best and if we can beat them, we can open some eyes to the talent that we have in Maryland,” Anderson said. “Maryland is perceived as a hot-bed for basketball, not football. Last year we went down and made some noise. We’re still laying the foundation but we have talent here.”

Anderson said now is the time for colleges to rethink Maryland football and the local talent that is here.

“We’ll know on Sunday [Jan. 6] if we have that ring or not.” Anderson said.

DeJuan Ellis was the first player to be chosen from Charles County to represent Maryland. Ellis, an honor roll student at Davis Middle School, plays quarterback and safety. Ellis was also selected to the Eastbay All-American team this year that represents the top 30 players from the east and west coasts.

Ellis was a team captain for the undefeated Westlake Bulldogs, which was coached by Terrence Byrd. The Bulldogs won the Greater Metropolitan Youth Championship as well as the Metropolitan Bowl title. Ellis leads the team in touchdowns and interceptions while maintaining a 3.4 GPA at Davis Middle School.

“I was proud to be chosen as the quarterback for the team,” Ellis said. “It’s an honor to be a part of such a great group of talent. I’m really looking forward to bringing then national title home to Maryland. I enjoy playing under coach Byrd and want nothing less than to win a title for him and us as a team.”

One of Ellis’s go-to guys in the recently-completed fall season was wide receiver Darrius Wilson, who led the Bulldogs in receptions and receiving touchdowns. Byrd said that Wilson is transferring some of that success to Team Maryland. Wilson attends Mattawoman Middle School.

Running back and linebacker, Chaz Crawford is also a team captain. Byrd said that Crawford led the Bulldogs in rushing during the fall season. He is leading Team Maryland in tackles and is second in rushing.

“He is a true leader on and off the field where he excels as an honor roll student at Mattawoman Middle school.” Byrd said.

Crawford maintains a 3.0 GPA.

First-year standout Devon Petrillo plays offensive tackle where he opens holes for Crawford and protects Ellis’s blindside. He’s also a linebacker. Byrd said he is third on the team in tackles. At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds Petrillo is now considered one of the top seventh-grade prospects for the class of 2018, according to Byrd.

“He’s a true success story.” Byrd said of Petrillo. “Devon had never played football until this year because he was always too big and would have been forced to play with older kids.”

Petrillo also attends Mattawoman Middle School.

Defensive lineman and offensive tackle Austin Fontaine has also played with older teammates due to his 6-0, 225-pound stature.

“Now playing with kids his own age, Austin has excelled and is also considered one of the top prospects for the class of 2018.” Byrd said. “Austin leads all defensive linemen in tackles and was a team captain for the fall team and really excels at Davis Middle School where he is a 4.0 student.”

Team Maryland’s Ty Oehlerking plays center, a position he’s comfortable with as he also played center during the fall season. Oehlerking attends St. Mary’s Bryantown where he maintains a 3.75 GPA.

Wide receiver and cornerback Daymon Williams was third on the team in interceptions during the fall season.

“Daymon always brings a positive attitude, and is a hard worker,” Byrd said of Williams, who attends Milton Somers Middle School. “He has a set of the best hands on the team.”

Brett Blandford was chosen to represent Team Maryland as an offensive guard and defensive lineman. Bryd said that Blandford, who is on teh honor roll at Milton Somers Middle School, is a hard worker on and off of the field.

The last of the nine local players chosen is linebacker Kevion Brooks, who was fourth on the team in tackles during the fall season and is known for being a great teammate, according to Byrd.

For more information and to see results of the touranment, go to www.thegyfl.com.

tshowalter@somdnews.com