In the last two years, the Scotts Valley High School varsity football team only lost one game.
But on March 30, a key component of that incredible success—offensive lineman Carlton Keegan, a senior sought after by college recruiters—died in a car crash.
“The kids are broken right now,” says SVHS Athletic Director Louie Walters, who coached that winning squad. “He was the guy that I could go to and say, ‘I need you to motivate the fellas today.’”
According to the California Highway Patrol, 18-year-old Owen Zeip was driving northbound on Granite Creek Road north of Branciforte Drive around 3:30pm, when the 2006 Subaru Outback veered down the dirt embankment and hit a tree. Keegan, also 18, was in the front passenger seat.
Keegan was taken to Dominican Hospital where he later died, said CHP spokesperson Alyssa Gutierrez.
No arrests have been made and it’s unclear if drugs or alcohol were a factor in the collision, she said. The circumstances surrounding the crash remain under investigation.
Keegan’s death comes just weeks after Mateo Deihl, a freshman at the school, was found dead in an apparent suicide.
School counselors were so busy assisting students during the fallout of that incident that the school board postponed a congratulatory board presentation in their honor.
One day after Keegan died, school officials informed each second-period class about what happened and shared information about grief resources.
That same day, SVHS Principal Michael Hanson sent a letter to the school community.
“This loss is sure to raise many emotions, concerns, and questions for our entire school community, especially our students,” he wrote. “We are fully committed to ensuring our students and staff are supported during this difficult time.”
Hanson also noted counselors are available through the high school’s front office and pointed to grief resources from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the Child Mind Institute, the Coalition to Support Grieving Students and Hospice of Santa Cruz County.
Just weeks ago, hospice presented to ninth-graders at SVHS, to help them process Deihl’s suicide.
“The interactive presentation addressed what grief is, how to take care of yourself when you are grieving, and how to access community resources,” Vanessa Silverstein, community education and outreach program manager with Hospice of Santa Cruz County, told the Press Banner. “We also offered a grief support group for students wanting additional support.”
Now, following the fatal crash that killed Keegan, the agency—which has an office in Scotts Valley—is sharing its Grief Handbook for Teens (which is also available in Spanish) and its Supporting Youth in Grief booklet with parents and teens coming to terms with loss.
“Hospice of Santa Cruz County has a robust youth grief support program that is available to anyone in the community and a family does not have to receive other hospice services to participate,” she said. “We provide support and resources to parents and guardians as well as to grieving youth.”
These services—including parent/guardian consultations and virtual or in-person counseling—are free, she added.
“Grief is a natural part of life when someone we care for dies,” Silverstein said. “Finding your way through the changes and often painful emotions that arise can be very difficult, but no one has to do that alone.”
Walters remembers first meeting Keegan when he showed up on campus as a freshman, since his older brother played football, too.
“He was more mature than most kids at that age,” he recalls. “Then I seen him grow as a young adult and a great football player.”
Eventually, Keegan would go on to play lacrosse and golf, too. But it was his skills on the football field that attracted the attention of post-secondary institutions.
While he hadn’t “committed” anywhere yet, Keegan was being considered by a number of programs, such as Butte College in Oroville, San Jose City College and College of the Siskiyous, in Weed, Walters said.
“We were league champions this year, and he was one of our best players,” he says. “His motor never stopped.”
The thing about Keegan was that he was quite well-rounded, the coach explained, noting the student was honored as “first-team all-conference” in the Central Coast Section both for his offensive and defensive skills.
“He was Superman to the other kids,” Walters says. “He was a rock.”
In fact, the athletic director even named Keegan the team’s Offensive Player of the Year after their championship run. But he says it wasn’t just his in-game performance that will stick with him. He’ll never forget their serious conversations, he shared.
“I love Carlton Keegan,” he says. “He’ll always have a special spot in my heart.”