Donovan Adams, who died in a car crash Wednesday, wasn't just one of the best football players ever at Heritage High School, head football coach Kraig Broach said.
"To talk about him as a football player minimizes what he was," Broach said Thursday. "He was respected. When he spoke, there was no question people were going to follow."
Adams, a 2011 Heritage graduate, was killed in a single-vehicle crash at 3:45 p.m. Wednesday at McCall Boulevard and Junipero Road, near Boulder Ridge Middle School.
He was a passenger in a car with three other boys, two Heritage seniors and another Heritage graduate, school district officials said.
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department identified the other victims as Michael Navarrete, 19, of Hemet, who also is a recent graduate of Heritage High; Joel Connor Fritz, 18, of Menifee; and Gregory Gonsalez, 18, of Nuevo. Fritz and Gonsalez are seniors at Heritage, according to authorities.
Authorities said Fritz was in critical condition Thursday afternoon at Inland Valley Medical Center in Wildomar and Gonsalez was in critical condition at Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley. Navarrete was treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital.
Deputies reported that Navarrete was driving the Ford east on McCall when he lost control and veered into a traffic signal on the south side of the road. The cause of the crash is still under investigation, but speed was a factor, according to a sheriff's spokesman.
Heritage opened in 2007 and Adams was a member of the first class to spend four years at the school.
"He was one of the first kids I ever met at Heritage High School," Broach said. "I was able to watch him grow up into a man over the course of four years .... Donovan was one of my favorite kids of all time."
Adams was the kind of student everyone else gravitated to, the coach said.
And people gravitated to the school in his memory Wednesday night, with more than 500 people reportedly showing up at the Heritage football stadium for an impromptu gathering.
They left photos and flowers and other items, which will remain on the track at least through Saturday morning's commencement ceremony, said Perris Union High School District Superintendent Jonathan Greenberg.
Heritage is in a remote area along Highway 74 in Homeland. When it opened, it brought together a diverse student body from numerous communities and school districts.
"To have someone like Donovan be able to bring it together made my life a lot easier," Broach said.
The crash is the second fatal pre-graduation accident involving students from Perris Union High School District in five years. Four Perris High School students died in a June 2007 crash on the way to a beach party.
"Teenagers and fast cars are a bad combination, this time of the year especially," Greenberg said.
There were grief counselors on campus Thursday for students and staff members.
An All-Valley selection by The Californian in 2011, when he helped lead Heritage to a division championship game, Adams played last year at Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colo.
The first Patriots player to go to a four-year college, Broach said Adams played everywhere on the field.
"We put a lot on him because he's one who could handle it," the coach said. "He excelled in that role."