Stanwood Junior Bantams quarterback Wyatt Custer uncorks a pass during a game at the Pro Football Hall of Fame National Youth Championships on Dec. 15-17 in Canton, Ohio. (Stanwood Junior Bantams photo)

Stanwood Junior Bantams quarterback Wyatt Custer uncorks a pass during a game at the Pro Football Hall of Fame National Youth Championships on Dec. 15-17 in Canton, Ohio. (Stanwood Junior Bantams photo)

Stanwood Jr. Bantams football wins 2 of 3 at national tourney

The youth football team competed at a tournament at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

For one weekend, a group of 12-year-old football players from Stanwood were made to feel like Hall of Famers.

The Stanwood Youth Football Bantams spent Dec. 15-17 competing at the Pro Football Hall of Fame National Youth Championships in Canton, Ohio, and the team showed it was capable of competing with the best teams from across the country in its age group.

Stanwood played three games in Canton, winning two of them, and for the players it was the experience of a lifetime.

“It was amazing,” Stanwood running back Ryder Bumgarner said. “It was probably my top football experience. We won a league championship, but nothing like going to Canton.”

“I thought the kids handled themselves great,” Stanwood head coach Reed Bumgarner said. “We were surprised by the cold weather, but the captains stepped up and showed leadership, and everyone else filled into roles.”

The trip to Canton was a new pinnacle for a team that’s had its core together since the players were 6 years old. The team has had its share of success over the years, including winning a North Shore Junior Football League championship in 2016, then winning 19 straight games between 2016 and 2017 before falling in this year’s NSJFL title game against Lake Stevens.

Prior to this year’s championship game Stanwood’s two-year stretch of success was noticed by scouts for the Pro Football Hall of Fame National Youth Championships, and Stanwood was invited to the Bay Area Regionals on Dec. 1-3 in Santa Rosa, California. Stanwood split its games at regionals, losing a close one to the Grant Union Jr. Pacers from Sacramento in the semifinals. However, it was later determined Grant Union’s team was an all-star team instead of a team that was intact throughout the season, and Stanwood received the invitation to nationals.

That began a scramble. This was Stanwood’s second long trip in the span of two weeks and the travel costs were mounting. The team received help from sponsors spanning Everett to Mount Vernon, but the big difference maker was a $30,000 donation from the Stillaguamish Tribe just days before the tournament.

“It blew my mind,” Stanwood Youth Football president Josh Houston said. “It was huge. A lot of parents spent a lot of money going on the trip, and with it coming up on Christmas I know it put some stress on some people’s budgets. I told them all it would work out somehow, then the morning we left I got a call from Eric White, who sits on their board, and he said they had $30,000 for us. They rally around the community and have made donations over the years, but nothing before was this huge.”

Upon arriving in Canton the team had a media day, at which the players got to find out what it’s like to be faced by cameras and grilled by the press.

”It was kind of nerve-wracking, since you had everyone watching,” Ryder Bumgarner said. “They were asking my style of play at running back. I said I like to truck people whenever I can.”

The players also had the chance to visit the Hall of Fame.

“It was bigger than I thought,” Stanwood quarterback Wyatt Custer said. “I thought it was just going to be head statues, but there were jerseys and other cool stuff.”

Then it was time for the games. But one thing Stanwood wasn’t expecting was the cold. The first day brought sub-freezing temperatures and heavy snow, something Stanwood had never expereinced before. Stanwood overcame the conditions to win its morning game against the Eastern Jr. Vikings from Voorhees, New Jersey, 13-6. However, in its evening semifinal, Stanwood was caught on the game’s first play as the Hawaii Crusaders from west Oahu scored on an onside kick, and Stanwood never recovered in a 32-0 loss.

By the next day, however, the temperatures rose and the snow had melted. Playing a consolation game in conditions more akin to the Pacific Northwest, Stanwood was able to unleash its usual passing game as Custer threw for more than 300 yards and five touchdowns in a 30-13 victory over the Monterrey Football Club from Mexico.

“Once the snow melted off the field we started playing our game again,” Reed Bumgarner said. “In my opinion we were the best passing team there.”

Custer finished the three games 22-for-40 for 388 yards and five touchdowns, completing passes to eight different receivers. He also ran for 56 yards and a TD. Ryder Bumgarner finished with 234 receiving yards and two touchdowns and 139 rushing yards and another TD.

On defense, Noah Grina led the way with 25 tackles and three sacks, while Ryder Bumgarner added five interceptions.

“We grew as a family,” Reed Bumgarner said. “We always thought we were a family, but this experience made it much bigger and stronger. They’re all brothers now.”

And who knows what the experience may inspire Stanwood to do in the future?

“We had fun playing,” Custer said, “and we look forward to trying to get there again next year.”

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