’Granite Strong’: Community Mourns Granite Hills High School Football Player Killed in Alpine Crash

William Burton, 17, played tight end for his school's varsity football team and was known by fellow students as "Mr. Granite Hills"

Friends, students, teachers and loved ones gathered Friday night to remember a promising Granite Hills High School senior killed in a crash on his way home from a sports banquet.

Will Burton, 17, was more than a football player to the hundreds gathered in the quad on campus for a candlelight vigil in his honor.

One by one, classmates and coaches stood up to share stories of Burton, whom they described as a "goofball," "a man of character" and someone who "always made people smile."

During the vigil, a classmate read a poem Burton had written called "Friday Night Lights" that seemed to not only encapsulate his love of football, but also his love of life. 

"Those lights, those glowing bright lights, shining down on me as if heaven were opening," the poem read. "The crowd screaming and watching intensely as the final seconds approach, yet only fate will tell them what will happen next.”

Burton -- dubbed "Mr. Granite Hills" by his friends, and known for his kindness, athletic talent and involvement with his school -- played tight end for the varsity football team at his high school in El Cajon. He was also a baseball player.

The teenager was killed in a crash Monday night in Alpine as he rode home in a friend's Jeep from a banquet marking the end of football season.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) said an 18-year-old Crest resident was behind the wheel of the Jeep, accompanied by two passengers: Burton in the back and another 17-year-old from Alpine riding in the front passenger seat.

The teens were traveling on South Grade Road east of Via Viejas Oeste at around 8:30 p.m. when the driver drifted off the road, overcorrected and crashed head-on into a Lexus traveling in the opposite direction.

CHP investigators said the back of the Jeep had no seats or seatbelts and, upon impact, Burton was thrown from the vehicle. He died at the scene.

The driver of the Jeep and the other passenger suffered minor to moderate injuries and were taken to a hospital. Both teenagers are also students at Granite Hills High School, Martin confirmed.

Two people inside the Lexus -- a 51-year-old Alpine man and a 13-year-old girl -- suffered minor injuries.

Burton's family said the teenager wanted to ride home from the football banquet with his friends that night. The deadly crash is under investigation but CHP officers said they do not suspect alcohol or drugs were factors.

Burton's baseball coach Hames Davis said that the day after the accident, a member of the media asked him if Burton was more than a football player. 

"Take a moment and look around," Davis told the sea of students and community members gathered Friday. "I think they have their answer."

With tears in their eyes, the crowd watched a slideshow, filled with photos of Burton as a child and moments shared with his classmates. 

A teammate told the crowd that Burton would have wanted them to live their lives to the fullest. 

"If Will was still here I think the one thing he’d want to say for all of us is that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed,” the teammate said. “Life is a very precious thing and you never know when it's just going to be taken from you and you gotta live it to your fullest."

Burton's family has planned his funeral mass for Dec. 20.

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