The plays all start the same way: A scrum of young football players converges on the ballcarrier. And then, whoosh! A pint-sized blur emerges from the pile, exploding past defenders and making his way to the end zone. It’s Maxwell (Bunchie) Young, zooming past opponents as if he’s in a race car and they’re on horseback. He’s playing a different game.
But that blinding speed, which has dazzled more than three million viewers on one of his YouTube highlight reels, is not what defines Bunchie. He’s not just a dynamic football player and a supersonic sprinter. He’s a leader at school and at church, a role model for other kids.
His speed makes him stand out on the field. His caring spirit makes him stand out off it. It’s those qualities that make Bunchie Young the 2017 SportsKid of the Year.
Ahead of the Pack
David Young doesn’t remember how Maxwell became Bunchie, only that the nickname has been around since his son was born. “I never really called him Maxwell,” Bunchie’s dad says with a laugh. But he does know that Bunchie immediately took to football. He saw his first game at age three and started playing when he was five. Bunchie’s speed quickly became evident. When he was six years old in 2013, he won the 200 meters in 32.22 at the Imani Speed City Track Club meet in Compton, California, 3.5 seconds better than the next finisher.
Bunchie knows he’s fast, but he doesn’t brag about it. When asked if he knows his speed is otherworldly, he gets shy. (And anyone who knows Bunchie knows he’s anything but shy.) All he’ll say is, “Yeah,” under his breath.
When asked to describe what it feels like when he’s on one of his mind-bending touchdown runs—like the one he made for the Hub City Tar Heels against the Cerritos Vypers 10-and-under team, during which he lined up as a receiver, went in motion, received the handoff on a sweep, and flew past four defenders, untouched—he immediately describes the crowd. “It roars, and I hear everybody cheering, and it’s so fun,” he says.
He scored 30 times in 2016 and 31 times through October of this year. Those electrifying touchdown runs have already caught the interest of college recruiters. The University of Illinois offered Bunchie a scholarship to play football once he graduates high school. (Illinois doesn’t comment on potential recruits, but its offensive coordinator, Garrick McGee, retweeted a post sharing the news in May.)
Bunchie, who is under no obligation to attend Illinois, is not the only kid his age to be offered a college scholarship: At least two others in his age group have had offers this year. Often, when those scholarships are reported, there is criticism saying the kids are simply too young. Mike Evans, Bunchie’s trainer and a former college football player at Louisville, disagrees. “It keeps them away from doing things that are wrong,” he says. “It makes them focus on their grades and being good people.”
Bunchie (in blue helmet) turns to his faith to stay grounded. He writes Bible verses on his arms, and he relishes being a leader among his peers.
When the scholarship was reported, Bunchie received a lot of attention. “It was a lot of pressure and a lot of hatred,” he says. Some kids were jealous. If he had a bad game, people would criticize him. “But I don’t worry about that,” he says. “I just go out and have a good game the next time.”
Indeed, Bunchie doesn’t really worry about what others think of him. His hair has been a kaleidoscope of colors. It’s currently an orange-and-blond mix. It’s been purple, green, blue, turquoise, red, orange, and pink. And those are just the ones he remembers. “It’s been so many!” he says.
Bunchie has an outsized personality to match his big-time talent. In an interview, the 10-year-old excitedly recalls his first track win (“I was like, Whoa, I actually won?”); becomes animated at the mention of his favorite basketball team, the Lakers (“Ooh, yes!”); and talks with admiration about old-school players (best-dressed of all time: Dennis Rodman).
Watching Bunchie on the track is like watching a movie on fast-forward. At the Long Beach Sprinters meet in February 2016, he won the long jump (3.89 meters). At the BCU Invitational in Harbor City that April, Bunchie, with green hair and a yellow track suit, won the 100 meters in 13.33 seconds, a half-second better than the second-place finisher. He also won the 200 by nearly two seconds. In May, at the Inland Valley Wildcats Invitational, he ran the 100 in 12.45 seconds, the fastest AAU time for 10-year-olds that year.
“I’ve seen him race high school kids after track practice,” Evans says. “He can’t race kids his age, because it’s no competition.”
Bunchie says he likes football better than track because he gets to share his gridiron success. “In track, you’re competing against teammates,” he says. “In football, we work together. It takes people to win. We form a bond better than the one we do in track.”
It’s easy to only focus on his on-field exploits. But there are two versions of Bunchie worth sharing. There’s Bunchie the speedster. And then there’s Bunchie the leader.
At Love and Live Again Ministries in Los Angeles, Bunchie wears a number of hats. In the classroom, teachers call on him when they need an example. At adult Bible study, he contributes to the discussion, even though he’s the only kid. “He asks questions that most adults are afraid to ask,” Pastor Lafayette Dorsey says. And despite the fact that Bunchie says he doesn’t like to sing, he helps out the church choir director. “You have many kids, they’re so athletically inclined, but they lack in other areas,” says Dorsey. “[Bunchie’s] very well-rounded. He’s very balanced.”
At the beginning of this school year, Bunchie applied for a spot on the student council at KIPP Scholar Academy. In order to do so, students have to write down why they want to be on the council. The principal narrows the list, and then the student body votes. “It’s just like how the presidency does it!” Bunchie says, excitedly. “We do speeches and all that stuff.”
Bunchie's highlights for the Hub City Tar Heels are big hits on YouTube.
Bunchie has enjoyed his time on the council and is already making an impact. In October, he worked on posters to get students excited about a sock drive for the homeless. “There’s a lot of hugs and high-fives,” says Tiffany Moore, the school’s principal. “He’s doing a good job. He leads by example.” In September, he won student of the month.
Bunchie has discovered early on that he likes to give back. Every Christmas, he and his family deliver toys and goods to the Union Rescue Mission, a local homeless shelter. “It makes me feel warm inside,” Bunchie says. “A lot of blessings have happened to me. For all the kids who don’t have a lot of stuff, we bless them back.”
He also gives back via social media. He has more than 14,000 followers on Instagram and often posts inspiring messages. “We want to play the game, but we don’t have to hate each other,” David Young says. “The kids who write him, he takes the time to write them back.”
His parents are not together, but Bunchie, who lives with his dad, sees his mom, Laura DeShazor-Dunn, and younger sister, Maxine, on a daily basis. They are Bunchie’s biggest fans.
His goals are ambitious. He wants to make the NFL, of course—but not before taking a quick detour to win gold at the Olympics in track and field. “For a year, then go back to football,” he says. He wants to model his football career after his idol, Barry Sanders, and make the Hall of Fame. Bunchie has loved his time on the student council so much that after his football days, he wants to become mayor of a city. “I don’t want to sit on my butt all day and be retired,” he says. He wants to write a book, too. His favorite subject is English, and he enjoys big-time characters—just like himself.
In eight years you may see Bunchie at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois, in orange and blue, blasting by defenders. Or you might see him at a different stadium, repping a different team. You might see him on the track at the 2028 Olympics in his hometown of Los Angeles. (Says Bunchie: “Oh, I will be there!”) You might see him in the mayor’s office or at his own book-signing.
Whatever he does, make sure to pay attention. If you blink—whoosh!—you might miss him.
Photographs by John W. McDonough