RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - It might seem like a lifetime ago to Matthew Bradford. A Dinwiddie football player, he took the field for the Generals under the Friday night lights, slightly before the days of consistent success they are experiencing now.
The connection, the camaraderie, the discipline- all things that stand out to Bradford about his time in a Dinwiddie uniform.
After graduating in 2005, he’d turn that in for another uniform, enlisting in the United States Marine Corps after graduation. Bradford would eventually find himself in Iraq, stationed in one of the more dangerous parts of the country at that time. That’s when everything changed.
“On January 18, 2007, I stepped on the wrong spot at the wrong time and it left me where I am today, you know, no legs and no vision,” Bradford recalled.
Three weeks later he woke up in the hospital. He knew he had a long journey ahead of him and had a choice about how he could approach it.
“I had to realize how I am going to live this life,” he said. “Everything I learned from being a marine, the never-quit mentality, lead by example, and adapt and overcome, that’s helped guide me every day.”
That June, Matt was walking with his prosthetic legs, opting not to hold back or let anything stand in his way. He pushed forward with an attitude we should all hope to possess.
“You look at the blessings in all of this,” Bradford noted. “If I would’ve looked down at the ground, it would’ve gone through my throat and I wouldn’t be here today.”
“To see what Matt does and what has he overcome and his positive attitude, it’s everything that we want our players to emulate,” Dinwiddie head coach Billy Mills said.
Mills met Bradford in 2008 during his first visit to Dinwiddie before taking the head football coaching job. He was inspired by the alumnus’s story and the two kept in touch via e-mail and social media, becoming fast friends. Mills asked the former General to speak to the team on a handful of occasions about his experiences. As the team navigated through the pandemic this past summer, he joined the captains on a Zoom meeting and continued to log on the following weeks.
“This kept going on a couple weeks,” said Mills. “I just kept sending him the link and he kept getting on there and I said Matt, man, you need to be a part of this.”
That’s how the position of leadership coach was born on Dinwiddie’s staff. Bradford resides in Kentucky, so he joins them virtually every week, but was recently able to return to take in a practice and attend a game. The military veteran’s main focus is accountability. What is each person willing to do for the person beside them?
“When you wake up every day, it’s your choice. What kind of person are you going to be today?,” Bradford said. “Are you going to be somebody who sits around and does nothing or are you going to be somebody who goes out and you’re motivated and you’re inspired?”
“It was a new experience,” senior Cornell Lucess pointed out. “Not all the coaches have the same characteristics as Matt. Everybody hasn’t been through the same things that he’s been through.”
“These kids are getting lessons and seeing things and learning things that are not just going to be valuable on the football field, but valuable in life,” noted Mills.
“Just walk” is Bradford’s personal motto, and that’s exactly what he’s done. He’s earned multiple degrees from the University of Kentucky, gone skydiving, and also surfs and hikes. In addition, Matt travels around the country sharing his story and experiences, which provide both motivation and perspective to many.
“It’s kind of hard to feel sorry for yourself when you see what Matt’s had to go through,” said Mills. “Not just go through, but go through with the attitude that he’s had.”
“I wouldn’t trade anything,” Bradford smiled. “This journey has made me a stronger person, it ultimately led me to my wife and my kids, and at the end of the day, if that’s the end goal, then I’d be blind and with no legs any day of the week.”
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