HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- We've seen Tejas Muthusamy on the national stage over the last three years meticulously spelling words most people can barely pronounce.
The 14-year-old star wordsmith from Moody Middle School is prepping for his fourth and final trip to the Scripp's National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C.
"Each time I get a little bit more nervous because I’m getting older. I have more expectations of myself,” Tejas said.
Away from the bright lights, you’ll find the Moody Middle Schooler at his Glen Allen home with his mom and spelling coach, Sri Santhanagopalan.
The National Spelling Bee is the Super Bowl for super spellers.
The dictionary, with close to a half a million words, is the study guide.
"I may have about 10,000 words left to study," Tejas said.
He went on to say, “you can't really memorize all the words and be able to regurgitate them.”
Listening to his vocabulary, there are times you forget how old he really is.
“He seems very serious. That's the impression people get about him. He cracks us all up with his jokes all the time,” Santhanagopalan said.
Before he turned into a "serious" speller, Tejas was "spellbound" with words. He was an early reader at age 2 and reading whatever he could.
"Reading these cereal boxes, the road signs,” Santhanagopalan said.
At age 6, he competed in "little bees" in Northern Virginia.
“Words like boat and cat. I kind of learned spelling patterns and progressed from there,” Tejas said.
“We took him there more like a weekend getaway. “Like, okay what can we do this weekend?,” Santhanagopalan said.
Tejas came in almost dead last in the “little bees”, but it's where he caught the spelling bee "bug".
“I definitely enjoyed going on stage, spelling and sitting down,” Tejas said.
In elementary school, his fascination with words became his passion. In 3rd and 4th grade, he was runner-up in Henrico County's Spelling Bee. His 4th grade bee would go down as one of the longest spelling contests in county history.
A match Tejas won’t forget.
"He didn't make it that year. He was a little upset. Very upset actually, not a little bit ,” Santhanagopalan jokingly said.
Just when his parents thought Tejas was about to give up competing, he studied even harder. In 2014, 11-year-old Tejas made his first trip to the National Spelling Bee.
"The first time was just awe inspiring. Sometimes I got to sit next to my spelling idols,” Tejas said.
He was the youngest finalist on the big stage and the nerves started to set in.
"When you walk on stage, you're just so nervous. It takes a lot of effort just to walk straight, Tejas said.
For his parents and brother watching in the audience, it was intense too.
"There's a butterfly farm right there," Santhanagopalan said pointing to her stomach. “My heart is in my mouth. If you check my blood pressure, it will be shooting up rockets."
When Tejas got the word, Hallenkirche, which means hallway in German, he was stumped.
"I have never heard that word before and I was just kind of shocked when I got it,” Tejas said.
He asked all the standard questions to try and help him spell the word. He ended up tying for 8th place.
His second trip to D.C. the following year, he came in 7th place.
His third time to D.C., the word Salele, a tropical Indo-Pacific area fish, would knock him out of the contest early. He placed 22nd.
“I know last year when I got that word, I kind of gave up a little. My mind shut down because I didn't know it immediately,” Tejas said.
Lessons learned from last year, Tejas is cramming about four hours a day.
"Just being quizzed over and over. That kind of gets inputted in my head,” Tejas said.
Besides the daily drills, Tejas is working on breaking down words he doesn't know.
"Different languages have different language patterns. In Greek, the “ca” sound is spelled with a “ch". If you kind of know the language of origin, you can maybe guess it,” Tejas said.
With this being his last qualifying year, Tejas feels he's more mentally prepared for the big show with 290 other star spellers. This year, he will be the 143rd contestant.
He admits there's "some" pressure.
“A lot of my friends have been like, "you better win this year,” Tejas jokingly said.
With his spelling bee journey ending later this month, Tejas is looking forward to catching up on TV shows and doing more traditional Indian dancing before he heads to Maggie Walker Governor's School next school year.
One day, he hopes to land a job working at the United Nations.