Some people may have written off the group of teens as lost causes.
They have several strikes against them: Being raised by single parents and living check-to-check in some of the Victor Valley's most underprivileged neighborhoods. But Raymond Martinez and his staff saw more.
With the coaching, mentoring and structure Martinez gave to the boys through Pop Warner football, the Cyclones recently took the western title and are now bound for the league's super bowl in Florida.
"It's one of the best things that could've happened," said running back Rafael Smith of Hesperia.
But Smith's happiness could be short-lived as the organization struggles to raise the money needed to get all the boys and the coaching team to Florida.
"The league is giving us $500 per child, but we still need to raise more to get there and we only have a few weeks to do it," Martinez said.
According to league officials, the group has been able to raise about $13,000 or the $50,000 needed for the trip. Martinez there are sponsorships and donations that have yet to be counted but he feels they are about $17,000 short.
While a daunting task, the team — including Smith — is accustomed to dealing with and overcoming adversity.
Raised by a single mother, Smith suffered a devastating loss when she died when the teen was only 8 years old. Still reeling from the loss, the young boy went to live with his sister who was only 18 at the time.
For several years, Smith moved around until about six months ago when he moved to Hesperia to stay with his mother's good friend.
"She's not really my aunt but I call her that," the soft-spoken Oak Hills High School teen said.
Always having a love of football, he tried out for the freshman team, but was denied.
"I think they were trying to be nice, but I think it was because I'm small," Smith said.
It was his guardian who prompted Smith to join the Cyclones, but he wasn't completely convinced.
"I thought it was a bunch of little kids, but when I went there were kids my age and younger and older. I think it's a really good experience," Smith stated.
Smith's love and dedication to the game has made him one of the team's star players.
"He's one of the reasons we're going to Florida," a proud Martinez said. "He's looks like he's only 90 pounds, but he's a great player."
Martinez, who founded the High Desert Storm organization along with Cedric Porter only two years ago, is dedicated to all the kids on the eight Pop Warner teams.
Martinez sponsored 10 of the children on the teams so they could participate and he shuttled around eight boys to make sure they make it to practices. But he's quick to point out that all the involved parents and volunteers make it a point to help any interested child play the game.
"We don't turn anyone away," Martinez said. "We will find a way to get them on that field."
Team supporters even spoke out at a recent Victorville City Council meeting about the positive influence the organization's had on the players. One man noted the boys are too busy running drills to get in trouble.
According to Martinez, the Cyclones are one of only eight teams in the country to make it to the championship.
"We're representing the West Coast and our community of Victorville and the High Desert," Martinez said. "It's a big honor and I hope that we can make it."
The team will be holding several fundraisers over the next few weeks, including one a pancake breakfast at the Victorville Applebee's on Amargosa Road on Sunday. Tickets are $10 and the event will start at 8 a.m. and continue until 10 a.m.
Anyone wishing to donate directly to their travel expenses can log onto www.HDPopWarner.org.
Beatriz E. Valenzuela may be reached at (760) 951-6276 or at BValenzuela@VVDailyPress.com.