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With the odds stacked against them, the Westlake Bulldogs overcame it all and have already set their sights on returning to the Alamodome next year.

The seventh-grade Westlake Bulldogs team went to Texas to compete in the second annual Football University National Championships that took place on Jan. 6 following the U.S. Army All-American bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

They brought back more than good news. They brought up pride and some hardware for their trophy case.

Being chosen to play in the Football University National Championship game was already a sweet victory for Bulldogs, but taking home the trophy, putting Maryland on the map, getting to meet NFL players and getting a chance to attend a live concert by rap artist Wale was a blast, said head football coach Terrence Byrd.

“It went very well,” Byrd said. “We upset South Florida 30-6 and Northwest Louisiana 38-18 to become the first seventh-grade national champion and the first from the Northeast [region]. Florida was favored to win the tournament. The memories are so much better when you bring home a win.”

The team met members of the Army All-American team and also had the opportunity to meet Michael Irvin, Michael Clayton, Aaron Williams and many more NFL players.

A team captain and first to be picked for the team, DeJuan Ellis was elected to play in the FBU football game. He was also selected for the Eastbay Youth All-American Bowl. He played quarterback for his fellow Bulldogs to help bring home the victory.

Ellis has already been chosen to play in the 2014 Eastbay game. Ellis battled cramps but never missed a snap, playing the entire weekend.

A humble and proud Byrd said he couldn’t have asked more from his Maryland team and from the coaching staff.

“At the end of the day for me, I’m just very proud to have coached this group of kids,” Byrd said. “They had the deck stacked against them, they really did. It was a very emotional championship game against South Florida.”

The Bulldogs had a key player suspended from playing in the championship game, preventing them from playing at full strength.

“The coaches from Florida came over and told me that they hadn’t been beaten this bad in their 20 years of coaching,” Byrd said. “They had only given up one touchdown in four games and we scored four in one game on them. I couldn’t have done this without my coaching staff of James Brake, Gary Blair, Corey Wemberly, Tyrese Lee, Sean Tull, Emmett Clark and Vance Miller.”

Cornerback and running back Naim Muhammad said he and his mother Pamela knew they were destined to bring home a win when they arrived to the airport and found out that they were flying out on Maryland One, a Southwest Airlines plane.

“It had the Maryland state flag on the body of the plane,” Pamela Muhammad said. “I said, ‘This is a sign that we’re going to win this thing.’ It was just overwhelming; the planning and organization, everything that went into this experience. They were treated like high school players with the top scouts out there for them to meet. They watched the Army All-American bowl and met the players and go to really experience everything up close.”

“It was exciting,” Naim Muhammad said. “That is how we’re going to be recognized one day. The game against [South] Florida was hard, but we still won. Making a team with no more than 35 players from all over the state of Maryland was great. It made all of my hard work at and outside of football practice worth it. Being a part of Team Maryland was a great experience.”

tshowalter@somdnews.com