Bubba Brannan will lead Stringer into combat Friday morning at the Class 1A State Championship against French Camp.
Which should give the Red Devils a decided advantage, given that the fifth-year head coach knows what he's doing when it comes to being a leader of men.
See, Brannan missed the entire 2010 football season after being deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, in March of that year. He managed an airfield during his time overseas, and while he "never loaded a round in a weapon," it still helped prepare him for this season.
"It certainly wasn't anything hard," he said. "All my time was spent inside the wire, as they say, but it was very beneficial to me as a coach for several reasons."
Brannan was named head coach of the Stringer program in 2007, about 16 years after he graduated from the Jasper County school. He was part of the Red Devil teams that three-peated as 1A state champs from 1990-92.
When he took over as the head man, Brannan was admittedly a little too hands-on sometimes for his own good.
But he said his time spent in Iraq opened his eyes in that regard.
"In that year gone, a lot of my coaches had to take on a lot more responsibility," said Brannan, who has been in the Army National Guard for just shy of 20 years. "It let me let go of a lot of things and let them do more because I knew they could handle it. So I think that year away actually helped prep us and make us a better football team."
Which isn't good news for French Camp. The only loss the Red Devils have in their past 12 games is to Bogue Chitto, which they beat last week in the South State title game.
Brannan said he's sought a little advice from a few colleagues since last week's victory.
"They said, 'Do what you do,'" he said. "I felt that way anyway, but it's reassuring hearing it from them. So we'll just keep on running the ball, being physical, passing it when we need to and taking away big plays on defense."
As much as Brannan has benefitted professionally from the year he spent serving his country in Iraq, he probably benefitted just as much personally.
'Sense of urgency'
"Leaving the team, leaving the family and all that, it lets you know how special things are and that you just don't have forever to get things done," he said. "So I think when I came back from that, I did have a little more sense of urgency."
That motivation may prove to be the difference in Friday's state title game, but either way, Brannan is enjoying the ride.
"It's an awesome feeling," he said. "A little nervous the first time around, because it's a lot different from when I played in this game. I didn't realize how special it was. But now I know what it takes to get here -- good players, good coaches and a lot of luck."
Contact sports writer Jason Munz at 584-3107.