Anyone that watched 8th-grader Jaylon McKenzie play football would tell you he was going to be a star. He dashed between defenders with ease. He ran for touchdowns like a gazelle on the open plains. Despite only being in the 8th grade, he was already receiving scholarships from major colleges.
Last weekend, all of Jaylon’s dreams of living his life to the fullest and possibly running into the end zone on Sundays came to a crashing halt when he was shot and killed while leaving a party in Venice, Ill.
From all accounts, a fight broke out as Jaylon was leaving. Jaylon was not involved in the melee; he was just trying to get home when he was struck by a stray bullet. He was pronounced dead at an area hospital.
Jaylon was just 14-years-old.
According to the Fort-Worth Star Telegram, Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott will cover all of Jaylon’s funeral costs.
“Jaylon did everything right. If he did anything wrong, I didn’t know about it,” Sukeena Gunner, Jaylon’s mother, told the Belleville News-Democrat. “He got up every morning, went to school, did his work. He never rode with anyone else; I’d take him to school, or sometimes my husband, and we’d pick him up. Then the next day, we’d do it all over again.”
Gunner said that her son attended an eighth-grade dance and then a house party afterward that was supervised by the homeowner. The fight was broken up and the homeowner called the police. And then shots rang out.
Jaylon lived in Belleville but attended school in East St. Louis and had dreams of playing in the NFL. Jaylon was even featured in Sports Illustrated’s Future Issue as one of six young athletes who would rule the future of sports and already had scholarship offers from Missouri and Illinois, the Star-Telegram reports.
Jaylon loved Elliott. He loved watching him play. So when Elliott reached out to his mother to cover Jaylon’s funeral costs, she couldn’t hold back the tears.
“For him to reach out to me was unbelievable. 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,” Gunner told the Star-Telegram. “Just for him to reach out to me and help me in this difficult time leaves me speechless.”
A GoFundMe campaign was started to help McKenzie’s family. It had raised more than half of its $3,000 goal.
The Star-Telegram notes that Elliott didn’t want any personal attention surrounding his offer to pay for Jaylon’s funeral. He felt a personal connection to this loss, as he grew up in St. Louis and played high school football there before staring at Ohio State.
“Zeke is really a special guy,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told the Star-Telegram. “He’s a great football player, obviously, but he’s a really good person. That doesn’t surprise me one bit. I think he’s just very generous. He’s got a great spirit about him. We see that every day as players and coaches. Anybody who’s been around him knows that, and it doesn’t surprise me one bit he’d get involved there. He’s someone that a lot of people look up to, a lot of people obviously in St. Louis and Missouri, Ohio State and all across this country. If you’re a fan of football, you know Zeke Elliott. Anybody who’s been around him on a daily basis knows what kind of person he is.”