Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is paying for the funeral of Jaylon McKenzie, the 14-year-old promising football player who was shot and killed at a party on Saturday evening. Mike Fisher of 247Sports.com first reported the gesture on Wednesday, which the Cowboys later confirmed.
Justina Coronel @JustinaCoronel
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 https://t.co/W0j6Yxatqa
"For him to reach out to me was unbelievable," McKenzie's mother, Sukeena Gunner, told Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Jaylen 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."
ESPN's Todd Archer noted that Elliott "wanted to keep the matter between him and McKenzie's family."
"Zeke is really a special guy," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said, according to Archer. "He's a great football player obviously, but he's a really good person and that doesn't surprise me one bit.
"He's just very generous. He's got a great spirit about him. We see that every day as players and coaches. Anybody that's been around him knows that, and it doesn't surprise me one bit that he would get involved there. He's someone that a lot of people look up to, a lot of people certainly in St. Louis and Missouri, Ohio State, all across the country. If you're a fan of football, you know Zeke Elliott, and anybody who's been around him on a daily basis knows what kind of person he is."
According to Fisher's report, McKenzie "already had college offers from the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois" and had "such a promising future he was recently featured in Sports Illustrated."
"It's very hard," Gunner said. "It's still like a bad dream, like I'm gonna wake up in the morning and my baby's gonna be smiling at me asking for something to eat like he always does."
Football was McKenzie's passion.
"He just loved the ball. From the moment he was able to walk and catch, he just wanted the ball," Gunner said. "You could see the talent at 5, but at 6 it was like, 'Wow where did this come from?' and each year he just got better and better."
The eighth-grader's favorite players were De'Anthony Thomas, Odell Beckham Jr. and Tavon Austin. Like Elliott, McKenzie played running back, though he was also a wide receiver and defensive back. And despite his burgeoning stardom, he remained humble.
"He wasn't a man of many words," Gunner said. "He had a humbling personality. He wasn't very outgoing, but everybody knew him and loved him."