RICHMOND, Va. -- Youth football league teams cover this land from sea to shining sea. But with the season drawing to a close, it's been impossible for anyone to beat Richmond's Rich City Spiders' two younger teams, the 8-year-olds and the 10-year-olds. In fact, no one even scored on the 8-year-olds' team until last weekend.
"340 points scored to six points allowed," said coach and Rich City Spiders president Linwood Johnson. "I'm proud of these kids."
Watching Thursday evening's practice at Montrose Elementary on Williamsburg Road showed why.
There's no talk-back or lollygagging. Coaches are answered with crisp "yes, sirs!" Routine calisthenics are done with military precision accented by team claps and chants.
Even the 8-year-olds have learned big-league plays, timing moves and defense-muddling things like silent snap counts. And they are seriously aggressive.
"We like to hit," said 10-year-old quarterback and straight-A student Caleb Mills. "We do it for our coaches and we do it for ourselves."
"It's really amazing how determined they are, for eight-year-olds," said Sherry Battle as she watched her son Matthew's team practice. She also finds it amazing how well the boys have learned grown-up plays. "They love it."
The scrappy Rich City players are somewhat ironically named. They come from eastern Henrico, Richmond and a few from Chesterfield. These are not rich kids, for the most part.
Which is why it's crucial that these teams are about character-building, not just bulldozing the competition.
"I get parents all the time telling us, 'Thank you for what you've done for my child,'" Johnson said.
It's easy to see why.
"That's one thing I teach them is discipline," said Morice Fulton, coach of the 10-year-olds and an athletic director of Rich City Spiders. "You've to to teach them how to be men . . ."
These two teams are heading the state championships in Northern Virginia this weekend. They eight-year-olds are already in the national championships in Florida in early December. The 10-year-olds have to win this weekend to make it the finals.
"We're going to make it to Florida," said young Caleb Mills. "We have the heart to do it."
But this trip to Florida will last the better part of a week. It's will be an expensive journey for many of these families.
"That's what we deal with," Johnson said. "Some of these kids can't afford to go. We try to do anything . . . anything we can do."
Quarterback Caleb Mills, who wants to be a doctor and a football player, says those from poorer families must also make the journey. "We want them to excel like everyone else."
If they win the national youth football league championships, it is believed they will be the first from this area.
It's the kind of thing that could change these young men - for life.