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Soldier from Le Grand dies in Iraq

Only eight days after he turned 21, Le Grand High School graduate Cesar Granados was killed in Iraq while serving in the Army.The 6-foot-5, 200-pound former football lineman who went by "Big C" died Sunday when his Humvee hit a roadside bomb, said Granados' former football coach Rick Martinez.

Martinez, who still coaches football at Le Grand High, said Granados was a "big teddy bear."

"I enjoyed the kid and I hoped the best for him," Martinez said. "I felt so bad when I found out about him on Monday. My heart just dropped."

Le Grand High honored Granados Friday night at its home football game against Livingston High. The ceremony included a tribute from the Le Grand Color Guard and from the Rifle Corps and Bugle Corps of the Merced American Legion Color Guard.

It's unclear where in Iraq Granados was serving when he was killed, though Martinez said he may have been near Basra in southeastern Iraq.

Granados, who graduated from Le Grand High in 2003, signed up for the military his senior year, Martinez said. He started his tour in Iraq less than a year ago.

Martinez said Granados hoped to one day serve with the California Highway Patrol or as a border guard. He said he and Granados often exchanged e-mails while Granados was in Iraq.

Right before Granados left for his overseas mission, he met up with Martinez to talk about his new assignment.

"I told him, 'It's not like being on the football field where you can get blind-sided and be OK,'" Martinez said. "'A lot of things can happen out there.'"

Frank Ferreira, the athletic director at Le Grand High, said Granados was laid back but had clear aspirations.

"He got along with everyone," Ferreira said. "He knew no enemies. He was like a gentle giant."