DINWIDDIE COUNTY, Va. -- A Marine wounded in the Iraq War has returned to the Virginia high school he played football for to help current and future players become better men and women on and off the field.
Representing the Dinwiddie community is something Matthew Bradford always remembers. After he graduated from Dinwiddie High School, he traded in the navy blue and white uniform of the Generals for the green and khaki of the Marines.
"I knew that this is my purpose -- like it was I didn't even consider college. I didn't think about college," he recalled.
A year after he completed basic training, Bradford was deployed to Iraq in 2006. The following January, his life completely changed.
"I saw the command wire going into the ditch that went inside a pipe right underneath the road that I was saying and directly over," he said. "And in a matter of seconds, it just exploded directly underneath me. It's in tribal into both miles and it removed my left leg and my right leg was severely damaged.
Bradford was in the hospital for several weeks. During that time, he wondered how his approach to life will be.
"You know, my legs aren't gonna grow back. My vision is not going to get better right now. But why be depressed and sad?" he asked. "Like, you know, use these adversities as opportunities."
And Bradford's motivation has pushed him every day since his injury 14 years ago.
"I didn't want to be a statistic. I wanted to live a normal life," Bradford said.
In 2008 Bradford met current Dinwiddie Head Coach Billy Mills for the first time in 2008. And from that moment, their friendship grew.
"I think it's important what Coach Mills is doing here with these, you know, student athletes that, you know, teach them the leadership that not only will it be helpful on the field, but it's helpful in life," Bradford said.
Coach Mills invited the former General to speak to the team about the lessons he learned and Dinwiddie and abroad.
"There's times I've said, 'Matt, you need to talk to him,'" Mills said. "I said, 'They hear me every day.
I said they need to hear that different voice in there.'"
"They all want to play in college," Bradford said. "They want to play an NFL, but it's going to take work it's going to take being a leader.
Last summer when the Generals football team held weekly zoom meetings during the pandemic, Bradford logged on as often as possible.
"I made it a priority that I'm going to jump on those Zoom calls," Bradford said.
Become of Bradford's commitment to the team, Mills asked him to join the coaching staff as the team's leadership coach.
"[It] still gives me goosebumps and gets to the point where emotions are really involved," Bradford said. "We're blessed."
Mills was taken aback by Bradford's reaction.
"Man, I heard him say that he was [blessed], but to me we're getting the better end of this deal," Mills said.
Players are grateful Bradford is helping current and future Generals become better men and women on and off the field.
"It meant a lot for him to take his time out of the day to like, you know, to help show us how to lead a team," one player said.
"He's a great example," another player said. "How he fights every time type of adversity, no matter what's in his way."
And while his uniform is different these days, Bradford's fight remains the same.
"I almost lost my life on one wrong step," Bradford said. "We're never guaranteed that next step that next day in life. So I want to take advantage of each and every opportunity. Just going to simply live life to its fullest."