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‘The time is right’: Keeton steps aside after six-season run as Oneida soccer coach

ONEIDA  |  Derek Keeton will step down as the men's soccer coach at Oneida after seven years at the helm, he informed his players Monday (May 20) evening.

“I wanted to get out when I loved it the most,” Keeton told the Independent Herald, adding that the 2024 season was his favorite as a high school head coach.

“Coaching has been my life for the past 15 years,” he said. “I want to spend some more time with Rose (wife). There's my boys, and my church.”

With Oneida coming off a string of five consecutive district championships and returning a talented roster for the 2025 season, Keeton said the time is right for a change.

“When you're a man of faith and the Lord says you need to put your priorities in other areas, you do that,” he said. “It's time to let someone else have the opportunity while the talent is still good. It's the right time for everyone involved.”

Keeton spent two years coaching Oneida Middle School's boys team before making the move to the high school level prior to the start of the 2018 season.

That first team, in 2018, lost to Cumberland Gap in overtime in the district championship game.

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Since that year, the Indians never failed to win a district championship, although the 2020 season was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Oneida made the substate in five of the six seasons Keeton coached the team.

However, injuries to key players plagued the Indians at the most inopportune times. There was the injury to Dante West, perhaps the best player on the 2018 team, in the district championship game against Cumberland Gap. Danner Keeton, the eldest of Derek Keeton's two sons to play for him, suffered a season-ending injury in 2019. , the top offensive weapon on the 2023 team, suffered a broken leg in the postseason. And both Keeton's son, Gavin, the team's keeper, and his nephew, , missed last week's region semifinal loss to Pigeon Forge with injuries.

set the program's all-time scoring record earlier this season, breaking the career mark held by his cousin, Danner.

Oneida has amassed a record of 71-43-5 during Keeton's tenure, with the five district championships, two region championships and five substate appearances.

This year's team, which Keeton called his favorite, started 0-5 before going 10-5 the rest of the way and winning the district championship with a 4-2 road win over a Kingston team that had lost only one time all season.

“It was a combination of having the young freshmen coming in along with all the mature players,” Keeton said of what made the 2024 season so pleasurable to coach. “Meshing the two was a big challenge. But it was such a tough schedule that it was a tremendous challenge.”

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The schedule was easily the toughest of Keeton's tenure as head coach, and he said that's the way he intended it.

“I just loved playing that tough schedule and watching these kids go,” he said. “This was a personal challenge for me. And we don't beat Eagleton and Kingston (in the district tournament) without playing the schedule we played. By the time we got to Karns, that was a pretty good team. And then you saw it all come to be at Kingston.”

The 2024 team was perhaps the unlikeliest of all five of Keeton's district championship teams at Oneida, as Kingston was considered the heir apparent to the throne after dropping down to Class A from Class AA. The Yellow Jackets entered the season as favorites to win the district, and stayed on top throughout the season, defeating Oneida in overtime at Jane Terry Hoffman Field in a regular season match in April. But in the rematch at Kingston, Oneida dominated even without Keeton in the goal, jumping out to a 3-0 lead.

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ONEIDA  |  Derek Keeton will step down as the men's soccer coach at Oneida after seven years at the helm, he informed his players Monday (May 20) evening.

“I wanted to get out when I loved it the most,” Keeton told the Independent Herald, adding that the 2024 season was his favorite as a high school head coach.

“Coaching has been my life for the past 15 years,” he said. “I want to spend some more time with Rose (wife). There's my boys, and my church.”

With Oneida coming off a string of five consecutive district championships and returning a talented roster for the 2025 season, Keeton said the time is right for a change.

“When you're a man of faith and the Lord says you need to put your priorities in other areas, you do that,” he said. “It's time to let someone else have the opportunity while the talent is still good. It's the right time for everyone involved.”

- Advertisement -

Keeton spent two years coaching Oneida Middle School's boys team before making the move to the high school level prior to the start of the 2018 season.

That first team, in 2018, lost to Cumberland Gap in overtime in the district championship game.

Since that year, the Indians never failed to win a district championship, although the 2020 season was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Oneida made the substate in five of the six seasons Keeton coached the team.

However, injuries to key players plagued the Indians at the most inopportune times. There was the injury to Dante West, perhaps the best player on the 2018 team, in the district championship game against Cumberland Gap. Danner Keeton, the eldest of Derek Keeton's two sons to play for him, suffered a season-ending injury in 2019. , the top offensive weapon on the 2023 team, suffered a broken leg in the postseason. And both Keeton's son, Gavin, the team's keeper, and his nephew, , missed last week's region semifinal loss to Pigeon Forge with injuries.

- Advertisement -

set the program's all-time scoring record earlier this season, breaking the career mark held by his cousin, Danner.

Oneida has amassed a record of 71-43-5 during Keeton's tenure, with the five district championships, two region championships and five substate appearances.

This year's team, which Keeton called his favorite, started 0-5 before going 10-5 the rest of the way and winning the district championship with a 4-2 road win over a Kingston team that had lost only one time all season.

“It was a combination of having the young freshmen coming in along with all the mature players,” Keeton said of what made the 2024 season so pleasurable to coach. “Meshing the two was a big challenge. But it was such a tough schedule that it was a tremendous challenge.”

The schedule was easily the toughest of Keeton's tenure as head coach, and he said that's the way he intended it.

- Advertisement -

“I just loved playing that tough schedule and watching these kids go,” he said. “This was a personal challenge for me. And we don't beat Eagleton and Kingston (in the district tournament) without playing the schedule we played. By the time we got to Karns, that was a pretty good team. And then you saw it all come to be at Kingston.”

The 2024 team was perhaps the unlikeliest of all five of Keeton's district championship teams at Oneida, as Kingston was considered the heir apparent to the throne after dropping down to Class A from Class AA. The Yellow Jackets entered the season as favorites to win the district, and stayed on top throughout the season, defeating Oneida in overtime at Jane Terry Hoffman Field in a regular season match in April. But in the rematch at Kingston, Oneida dominated even without Keeton in the goal, jumping out to a 3-0 lead.

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