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Crawford, Beard join Merced football squad
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Brandon Crawford and Isaiah Beard formed a friendship while playing for the Ceres High football team. The 2004 graduates were teammates for two years. Beard, an offensive lineman, blocked for Crawford, a tailback.

Crawford and Beard are suiting up for the same team at the collegiate level. They started practicing with the Merced College Blue Devils on Monday, Aug. 2.

"We made a plan to try to stay together during the season," Beard said. "We always talked about it during games. We want to play two years at a JC and transfer to a UC somewhere."

Said Crawford: "I think it's pretty cool playing on the same team with someone you know, especially when you're going to a new environment. We've been close friends for two years. We hang out together. We talk to girls together. We're going to party together."

Merced finished fourth with a 2-3 record in the Valley Conference and went 5-5 overall in 2003. The Blue Devils haven't compiled a winning record in six years.

"We're hoping we can go down there and change their program," Beard said.

Added Crawford: "I never sit back and accept losing."

Said Merced coach Tony Lewis: "Those are the kind of guys we want. The ones that want to make a difference."

Crawford and Beard helped the Ceres High football team make history during the 2003-2004 school year. The Bulldogs finished third in the Central California Conference and secured a berth into the Division I playoffs for the first-time ever.

Beard earned first-team, all-CCC honors on offense. The three-year varsity starter played on the offensive line (guard). He also logged a significant amount of playing time on the defensive line.

Crawford earned first-team, all-CCC honors on offense. The halfback rushed for 954 yards on 159 carries and scored a school-record 16 touchdowns. He also caught 15 passes for 205 yards.

"I've always been a competitor," Crawford said. "I can't wait to take it to the next level and shine like I did in high school."

Crawford and Beard decided to go to Merced College instead of Mendocino College and Modesto Junior College.

They visited the Merced campus several times earlier this year.

"From day one, they indicated they were going to come here," Lewis said. "We're happy that they chose Merced."

Crawford and Beard have no regrets.

"I think this is the best decision that I could have made," Crawford said. "It's a solid football program."

"I feel confident in my decision," Beard said.

Beard and Crawford wanted to play for a college that was closer to home.

"That was a big part of it too," Beard said. "(Our families and friends) wanted to come watch us."

Beard and Crawford moved to Merced on Aug. 13. Crawford, his younger brother Parish, and Beard are sharing an apartment.

Beard will play defense at Merced. The 6-foot-tall, 205-pounder is vying for time at defensive end.

"We expect him to be one of the top defensive players in the conference and state," Lewis said.

Crawford and several other players are competing for the starting tailback position.

The 5-foot-11, 178-pound Crawford is going to be a major contributor.

"I've been returning punts and kickoffs and playing on special teams at practice," he said. "I'm trying to get on the field and get noticed."

Said Lewis: "We feel that he's going to be a guy that's going to contribute to the team. He's got a lot of confidence and a lot of speed. He's going to be one of our better players."

Beard and Crawford started school on Aug. 16.

Beard is carrying 15 units. The physical education major is taking a handful of classes, including English, math, health and history.

"I want to be a physical trainer," he said.

Crawford is carrying 14 units. The business administration major signed up for English, math, speech and business courses.

"I want to be a real estate broker," Crawford said.

Beard and Crawford are looking forward to the upcoming season. They've already circled a few dates on their calendars.

Merced plays host to Modesto JC on Sept. 18.

"We know a lot of guys on the other team," Beard said. "We met a bunch of them in the weight room at MJC."

Added Crawford: "It's not a friendly rivalry. The hitting is going to be a little bit harder than usual."

Ceres will face 2003 Valley Conference champion Reedley College on Oct. 30.

"A lot of scouts come to their games," Crawford said. "They're ranked No. 2 in the state."

The Blue Devils open the season on the road against American River College in Sacramento on Sept. 4.

"From the looks of it, we have some pretty good incoming freshmen," Beard said. "If we don't do good this year, I think we'll do really good next year." - By DALE BUTLER / Staff Reporter of The Ceres (Calif.) Courier