Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott offers to pay for funeral of slain 14-year-old football star

DALLAS – Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has offered to cover funeral expenses for a slain teen football standout who lived near Elliott’s hometown of St. Louis.

Jaylon McKenzie, who played receiver in the NFL’s 8th Grade All-American Game in Canton, Ohio, was shot Saturday night at a party in Venice, Illinois, police told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Police said McKenzie, 14, suffered serious wounds and died at a hospital. A 15-year-old girl also was in critical condition.

The Belleville, Illinois, native had received football scholarship offers from Missouri and Illinois, according to his Twitter account.

The Cowboys confirmed to USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday afternoon that Elliott had made the offer to McKenzie’s family. Elliott didn’t seek media attention for the gesture but McKenzie’s mom, Sukeena Gunner, told a local NBC affiliate of the offer.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spoke Tuesday about Elliott’s kindness.

“Zeke has always had a wonderful heart,” Jones said from the groundbreaking of the Gene and Jerry Jones Family Hope Lodge for cancer patients and caretakers in North Texas. “All you’ve got to do is go in the locker room and you’ll see Zeke is inspiration. He’s inspirational not only what he does on the field but what he does around the locker room. He’s a bright soul, I call him.”

Elliott has drawn headlines out in the community this offseason, from cheering up a fan hit by a puck at a Dallas Stars playoff game to joining Cowboys Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith’s charity gala to support educational opportunities for children. He’s also joined teammates on outings including a fishing trip and a team leadership venture with coach Jason Garrett that included stops at Duke and with military leadership.

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America’s Team with America’s Bravest!

A post shared by Ezekiel Elliott (@ezekielelliott) on May 1, 2019 at 6:22pm PDT

Elliott led the league with 1,631 rushing yards as a rookie (108.7 per game) and 15 touchdowns by ground. He missed six games in 2017 serving a suspension for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy after allegations of domestic violence. Elliott also drew headlines then for an alleged bar fight and pulling down a woman’s shirt at a St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“There was really no doubt that some of those things that frankly reflect just a spirit of positiveness, a spirit of being alive, those types of things took some adjusting,” Jones said Tuesday. He added, in jest: “I didn’t have any of that problem when I was in my late teens and early 20s, but some do. We have to grow out of that.”

In 2018, Elliott generated a career-high 381 touches as he fueled the Cowboys’ offense to an NFC East title. He became a more vocal leader, taking over pregame hype speeches from then-retired Jason Witten. Elliott accounted for 2,001 yards from scrimmage and led the league in rushing yards per game for a third consecutive season.

The Cowboys recently picked up Elliott’s $9.1 million fifth-year option for 2020. Dallas drafted Elliott fourth overall in 2016, the same season they selected quarterback Dak Prescott in the fourth round. The team has said it will extend both before long and that Elliott’s deal could match or exceed that of the Rams’ Todd Gurley, who signed for $60 million ($45 million guaranteed) over four years.

Follow Jori Epstein on Twitter @JoriEpstein.

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