On Saturday came the heartbreaking news that a promising 14-year-old football player was shot and killed at a party in Illinois.
Jaylon McKenzie of Belleville, Illinois, had such a promising future that Sports Illustrated profiled him in an article titled “Six Teens Who Will Rule the Future in Sports.”
His death shocked his community and hit close to home for Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys. Elliott was born in Illinois just 45 minutes from where Jaylon was killed.
Upon hearing the news of Jaylon’s death, Elliott stepped up and offered to pay his funeral expenses.
Justina Coronel, a reporter for KSDK-TV in St. Louis, said Jaylon’s mother, Sukeena Gunner, confirmed that someone on Elliott’s team contacted the family to help them out.
JAYLON MCKENZIE: I spoke to Jaylon’s mom, @sukeena5, who says that someone on behalf of @EzekielElliott reached out to pay for her son’s funeral costs. That’s so incredible, since Jaylon used to watch Ezekiel to improve his own skills. @ksdknews pic.twitter.com/W0j6Yxatqa
— Justina Coronel (@JustinaCoronel) May 8, 2019
Gunner told the Belleville News-Democrat that her son, a talented running back, greatly admired Elliott and tried to improve by watching him play.
“For him to reach out to me was unbelievable,” she said. “Jaylon loved Ezekiel Elliott. He talked about him all the time. When Ezekiel was playing, he would sit in front of the TV. His eyes were glued to the TV, watching him.
“Just for him to reach out to me and help me in this difficult time leaves me speechless.”
According to the Illinois State Police, Jaylon was struck and killed by a stray bullet while attending a party Saturday night in Venice, Illinois.
He was rushed to the hospital and died shortly thereafter.
A 15-year-old girl was also shot and remains in the hospital in critical condition.
Elliott has gotten a lot of unwanted attention throughout his NFL career thanks to some off-the-field transgressions, but he appears to have matured as he enters his fourth season.
Last month, he made a surprise visit to the Dallas Fire Department, where he greeted first responders and even took part in a game of pingpong.
— Matthew Soto (@Matthew_SoTo43) April 9, 2019
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Tuesday that despite Elliott’s past transgressions, he has a big heart and acts like these prove just that.
“He’s a bright soul, I call him,” Jones said, according to The Dallas Morning News. “There really is no doubt that some of those things that, frankly, reflect his spirit of positiveness, his spirit of being alive — those kinds of things took some adjusting.
“I think that Zeke has always had a wonderful heart. These players can see through anybody, and all you’ve got to do is go in the locker room and you’ll see that Zeke is inspirational. He’s inspirational, not only with what he does on the field but what he does around the locker room.”
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