On May 17, 2019, Oregon high school student Angel Granados-Diaz walked into a classroom with a shotgun hidden under a trench coat. Later, Granados-Diaz would testify that he planned to take only his own life, not kill his screaming classmates. But before he could do anything tragic, Keanon Lowe, a security guard and coach at Parkrose High School, wrestled away the weapon and wrapped the teen in a hug.
“Nobody cares about me,” the sobbing Angel told Lowe.
“I care about you,” Lowe told the boy. “That’s why I’m here. I’m here to save you. I got you, buddy.”
In his new book — “Hometown Victory: A Coach’s Story of Football, Fate, and Coming Home,” which Lowe wrote with Justin Spizman — Lowe shares how a series of fateful decisions would place him in this spot at this moment. (Granados-Diaz was ultimately sentenced to three years probation and treatment for mental health.) In the book, Lowe talks about how the death of his best friend, Taylor Martinek, from opioid overdose inspired him to leave his job as an offensive analyst for the San Francisco 49ers and move home.
Lowe, a former football player for the University of Oregon, returned to his native Oregon in 2017 to coach football at Parkrose High School. This school, located in a low-income area of Portland, had a struggling team on a 23-game losing streak. In “Hometown Victory,” Lowe talks about the joyful challenge of coaching several boys who managed to turn around both their academics and their athletics.
When the covid-19 pandemic shuttered schools in 2020, Lowe lost his job. But he used that time to tackle a bucket-list item by writing his book. Now 30, he is engaged to be married and hopes to return to coaching high school sports.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: How do you describe what was going through your mind during the gun incident? How do you feel now looking back on it?
A: Everything went into slow motion for me — but it also happened so fast. Looking back on it, it all miraculously worked out, and I happened to be in that exact place at the right time. There are just some things in life that you can’t explain, and that’s one of those things. It’s almost like a miracle — how the timing of it all worked out.
Thankfully Angel had me to be there for him, and to be able to save his life, and able to save a lot of trauma for the entire student population, city and country. It’s just an amazing moment that changed my life forever, and obviously changed his life forever as well.
Q: Do you ever regret leaving your NFL job?
A: No. I can honestly say that the most fun and most rewarding time I’ve had has been at the high school level. For me, money has never been a driving force in my life.
I’m adamant about high school sports and the effect they can have on young people, and preparing them for life to be good human beings. We’re giving these kids the best opportunity and best experience they have. For a lot of them, it’s going to be their last year playing their respective sport. You might as well make it as fun and as challenging as you can.
I learned at Parkrose that it’s very powerful when young people that you teach and you coach look like you and you look like them. They respect you on a different level.
Q: What do you think your best friend, Taylor, would say about what you’re doing now if he were here?
A: I am sure Taylor would tell me he is proud of me. He would want to help young people learn from his story. Hopefully, I can help multiple young people with my book. When they are approached with the opportunity to take drugs, maybe they’ll have that in the back of their mind — the Taylor Martinek story — and maybe it will stop them from going down that route.
Q: What do you hope people get out of your book?
A: Whether they’re a football fan or a sports fan or an educator or a parent or a coach, I wanted to write a book that would appeal to everyone. I think there are lessons in this book. I started writing this during the pandemic . . . to put something out into the world that’s good. That’s my M.O. — just continue to spread goodness across the world.
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