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Army, war experiences helped mature, turn around direction of CHS graduate
Brandon Crawford met his daughter for the first time in September of 2011.

On a birthday leave from the Army, the 2004 Ceres High School graduate bonded with four-month-old Corinthian and visited family and friends before leaving the country again.

"It felt good to hold her instead of a gun," Brandon said. "It meant so much. I loved her but she didn't know me. She was born when I was overseas."

Crawford, 26, returned to Afghanistan two weeks later and completed a 10-month tour as an infantry solider in January 2012. Brandon carried up to 100 pounds of gear in 120-degree weather. He got less than three hours a sleep each night.

"We were in the heart of the war," said Crawford. "Every day, you felt like you were going to die. You never get comfortable. I wanted to see my daughter again. That gave me a drive to stay focused."

Brandon says his life changed for the better after he joined the military in October 2010.

He completed his basic training in Georgia before being sent to Afghanistan.

"It's something I've always wanted to do," said Crawford. "It changed me a lot. It humbled me."

Crawford's currently stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas.

He was promoted to E-4 specialist in May.

Brandon attended six funerals in a three-week span across the Midwest this summer. Crawford presented flags to the families of veterans killed in action during the military ceremonies.

"You always got to keep your composure," said Crawford, who could achieve the rank of sergeant within the next 10 months. "It's so sad. But it's part of the job."

Crawford graduated from Ceres High School in 2004.

Brandon ran for 954 yards and scored a school-record 16 touchdowns during his final season with the Bulldogs, who posted a 7-4 overall record, placed second in the Central California Conference standings and secured a Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berth for the first time in eight years. A first-team all-league selection, Brandon also caught 15 passes for 205 yards.

Crawford started at safety and returned kickoffs during his senior year at Dakota State University (2008).

He also played for several semi-pro football teams. Brandon made eight tackles and one interception while suiting up for the Abilene Ruff Riders of the IFL in 2010.

Crawford gave up on his dream of playing professional football.

"I had a plan to be in a certain place in my life," he said. "If I didn't make it to the pros before the age of 25, I was going to stop. I had a daughter on the way. I wanted to make a better life for her."

Brandon enlisted in the Army for three years and 18 weeks.

He has yet to decide if he'll remain in the military.

"I don't know what the future holds for me," said Crawford, who talked about the possibility of becoming a firefighter or law enforcement officer. "There's so many things I want to do. I know I want to coach high school football."

Back home safe from Afghanistan, Brandon will get an opportunity to watch his daughter grow up.

Corinthian Bailey Crawford turned 1 on May 29.

"She's the love of my life," he said.

Crawford has matured a lot since his senior year at CHS when he was suspended for singeing a classmate's hair. Unable to play against Johansen due to the incident, the Bulldogs suffered their first league loss and were eliminated from the CCC title race.

"That's something I didn't like to talk about in the past," Brandon said. "I was young and stupid. I learned so much from that. I'm doing everything the right way now. I'm not perfect by far. I'm not the smartest person. But I'm a hard worker. I'm always going to strive for more. I came from nothing and made it to something."