On a crisp Friday night in the fall of 2005, a friend invited me to a high school football game. New to Cambria, it was my first Coast Union game, and I was awed by the speed and shiftiness of a wide receiver, No. 11, who caught several passes and darted away from defenders like they were standing still.
That receiver was a senior, Kiernan Hopkins. After the game I met his parents, Brent and Monie Hopkins, and over the years I have had the pleasure of knowing this family, including Kiernan’s younger brother Terek, who also played the sports his brother played — football and baseball. The Hopkins’ first born, Mishon, also played sports at Coast Union.
Tragically, Kiernan’s life was cut short Saturday, July 30. He suffered a pulmonary embolism while driving his car in San Diego, where he lived and worked. His mother explained that Kiernan simply “pulled to the side of the road and died. It was painless and immediate.”
The shocking, sudden passing of an apparently healthy, gifted, loving young man is beyond heartbreaking; it is an unbearably painful moment for the family and friends, and it will linger for a lifetime.
Kiernan’s mother, Monie, wrote in an email that she had “never heard Kiernan say anything negative or begrudging or unkind. He loved his family, his friends and his life. He was very proud of his accomplishments, of who he had become as a man.”
He was an “old soul with wisdom and depth that I never understood,” Monie said. “I am the mother of three incredible sons, and I will never give that up — it is who I am, and Kiernan will stay with us forever.”
Kiernan, 27, graduated from Coast Union, class of 2006, and was recruited by Jim Harbaugh, then the football coach at the University of San Diego. Kiernan played wide receiver and special teams for Harbaugh for two years, and graduated from USD with a degree in business.
His career goals in digital technology brought him to work as an intern for High Rank Websites in San Diego — a firm that rates high in customer and employee satisfaction. He worked his way up in the organization and became a full-time employee providing highly technical expertise doing organic search engine optimization (SEO) for High Rank clients that needed high visibility for local searches.
Recently, he had his five-year review at High Rank, and was promoted as the only senior SEO consultant on staff — receiving a substantial raise. Kiernan’s administrator at High Rank, Stephanie Perez, returned a call saying Kiernan “was part of our family and I thought he would be with us forever. Kiernan was kind; he was a good, loving, gentle soul. He never raised his voice,” Perez explained.
She said of all the employees she has worked with, Kiernan was “the most respectful, and appreciative” of his colleagues and management. “I love learning more about him, even in these circumstances.”
Several of Kiernan’s close friends also offered fond remembrances.
Kiernan’s humility and kind heart made him a close friend to many. He always had his friends’ back and would to just about anything for them.
Ian Irving and Kiernan bonded “since they were in diapers,” according to Ian’s sister Sasha. Ian said Kiernan was the “closest thing to a brother I’ve ever had,” and though the two went to different high schools and different colleges, “we always managed to keep in touch and stay close.”
The two shared a passion for music. In fact they attended a concert with the band “Slightly Stoopid” in Chula Vista on July 9 of this year. “We bought tickets as soon as the tour was announced,” Ian wrote in an email.
“Kiernan’s humility and kind heart made him a close friend to many,” said Ian, who works for Career Artist Management in Los Angeles. “He always had his friends’ back and would do just about anything for them.”
Another childhood friend, Bram Winter, remembered Kiernan as a “caring, soft-hearted person.” Bram, Ian and Kiernan “were all close friends in Cambria since we were little — all of our moms were close friends,” Winter explained.
Winter, general manager of Cambria Pines Lodge, said, “I loved Kiernan. He really was a very good dude, and he’ll be missed.”
Michael Mahoney remembered being “inseparable” from Kiernan at Coast Union, and the two shared an apartment in San Diego for two years. “Kiernan’s a guy who wore his heart on his sleeve and was never afraid to tell you how much he loved you. He would give you the shirt off his back — in fact, he did that for me more than once.”
Mahoney, in nursing training in Salt Lake City, said during a phone call the Hopkins clan was a “second family to me. For Kiernan, it was music and relationships. He could care less about everything else in the world except his family and his friends.”
He was a joy to coach and an even better human being. The better the competition, the better he played.
Charlie Casale, former football offensive coordinator at Coast Union
Kiernan’s football skills come into sharp focus when looking at his statistics. In his senior year, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound receiver caught 87 passes for 1,448 yards. He also rushed for 95 yards and made 67 solo tackles.
Charlie Casale was the offensive coordinator for Bronco football Kiernan’s junior and senior years at Coast Union. “He was a joy to coach and an even better human being,” Casale said in an email. “The better the competition, the better he played.
“He was a big-play receiver and a team captain and leader at Coast — and a hard worker in practice with a great work ethic. He loved making the big play catch. I am totally devastated to hear about Kiernan. We have lost a good one; RIP Kiernan.”
Kiernan’s baseball coach, Andy Stevens, said Kiernan’s teammates “gravitated towards him, and he made everyone else around him better.” In his junior year, he and Jeb Heavenrich “were a two-headed monster on the mound. They took turns back and forth throwing complete 7-inning games for us.
In an email, Stevens said he could put Kiernan “anywhere in the lineup or anywhere on the field … he was our glue guy. He was selfless and was willing to do anything to give his team the best chance to win. His senior year he led us to the CIF Finals.
“Kiernan’s teammates loved him. This is very difficult news for me because he was one of my guys. … This is such a tragedy, and my condolences are with his parents and brothers.”
That senior year in baseball, 2006, Kiernan hit .342, knocked in 30 runs, hit a pair of homers, pitched four complete games and ended up with a miserly 1.41 ERA.
One of Kiernan’s Cambria friends, Westin Moon, who played baseball and football with Kiernan, said that “Kiernan was always someone I wanted to be around because he was a fun-loving, energetic guy. You wanted to be better because he was always so good.”