His favorite song was “Hate It Or Love It” by 50 Cent. He loved getting into heated discussions with his teammates about rugby, music and his hometown teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and Dodgers. He was set to graduate in the spring with a degree in sociology, then continue on to become a social worker and mentor for troubled youth.
Now, the UC Santa Cruz men’s rugby teammates of Benjamin Quaye, a senior back wing who was found dead along Almar Avenue on Feb. 7, are trying to cope with the loss of one of their core players.
“I first heard the news from Jeremy, who’s one of the assistant coaches, and my heart dropped,” six-year head coach Robbie Bellue said. “Like anything, death is a part of living, but it’s not easy … especially after seeing my rugby players’ faces when they heard the news. I could tell it was going to be a long path to make sense of it all.”
Quaye’s body was found in a shallow ditch along the Westside railroad tracks by a jogger on the morning of Sunday, Feb. 7. An autopsy performed the next day found that he died of severe head trauma, apparently from slipping down a gravel embankment and hitting his head. Although toxicology reports have not yet been released, his friends and police confirmed that he had been drinking that night at the Parish Publick House, a bar in the Almar Shopping Center.
“My initial reaction was of course shock and disbelief,” said Beverly Quaye, Ben’s mother. “I couldn’t believe it was true. It was very difficult.”
Senior fullback Cody Juric says he has been haunted by the fact that he wasn’t there with his teammate that night.
“Every game and every second we’re supposed to support our teammates, and what tore me up is that I couldn’t do anything when he was struggling for his life,” Juric said. “… We couldn’t be there.”
Junior flanker Phil Brody says what struck him and other teammates especially hard was the suddenness of Quaye’s death.
“This is a kid who was running around and playing one of the best games of his life the day before [he died],” Brody said.
The day before Quaye’s body was found, the men’s rugby team played an away game against Humboldt State — one of their biggest rivals — and won 29-12.
According to his teammates, Quaye was a significant part of that victory, but had an impact on the team that expanded beyond his athletic ability. Bellue says Quaye stood out on the team for his leadership and mentoring abilities.
“I always said if we had 15 Bens we’d be okay, because Ben did everything he could with what he had,” Bellue said. “There were new guys that came on weeks ago that Ben had a profound influence on. [He was] constantly helping players work through their own trials.”
One such new player was freshman lock Michael Greer.
“Ben had a way of touching everyone he met. Whether you knew him for eight years or eight days, he had a way to affect you even after knowing you for a short time,” Greer said in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press. “… He was a leader on the field and an awesome one to follow. It is still hard to believe he is no longer here and that I won’t ever see him again, though I can clearly picture him and his big smile any time I like.”
Quaye’s mother says that although she always knew Ben made an impact on people, she didn’t realize the full extent of this until his death.
“What was so amazing to me during this whole grief process and celebrating his life was the impact he had on people in general,” Beverly Quaye said. “We had a vigil and mass and there were over 200 people at each one, standing room only … whole families came because they all knew Ben and they all wanted to say goodbye to Ben. Most kids who are 21 years old don’t have an impact like that on people.”
Juric says that while Quaye was a great player and teammate, he was as influential off the field as he was on it.
“He always looked on the bright side of things — always so carefree, and always had this youth and exhilaration,” Juric said. “There are so many words to describe him, but one word it comes down to is ‘stoked.’ … He was definitely brother Ben.”
His teammates plan to honor Quaye by getting patches of his initials sewn into the sleeves of their jerseys. They are also exploring the possibilities of founding a scholarship in his name or renaming the Lower East Field for him.
Most importantly, however, they will show their dedication on the field.
“We feel sorry for the next team we’re going to play,” Juric said. “There’s going to be hell on the field in honor of Ben.”
“We’re going to play with a homicidal rage,” Brody added, referring to this Saturday’s upcoming game at Sierra College.
Although the men’s rugby players will eventually move forward in the aftermath of their teammate’s death, Juric says Quaye will never be forgotten.
“No 15-player team will be able to beat us,” he said, “because we have a 16th player out there in Ben.”