''Zeke is inspirational with not only what he does on the field, but what he does in the locker room,'' Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "He’s a 'bright soul.'''
Back home in Elliott's native St. Louis area, some buoyancy, some inspiration, some "bright soul'' is desperately needed by the family of Jaylon McKenzie, a 14-year-old rising football star from Belleville, Illinois, who on Saturday night was shot and killed while attending a party. The eighth-grader who already had college offers from the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois had such a promising future he was recently featured in the Sports Illustrated.
But now there is to be a funeral for Jaylon McKenzie. And behind the scenes, with no intention of or desire of fanfare, Ezekiel Elliott has contacted the family to offer comfort and to pay for the memorial service.
According to a CNN interview with McKenzie's mother, Sukeena Gunner, Jaylon was in attendance at a gathering in Venice, near the Illinois-Missouri border. A fight broke out, and when Jaylon walked outside to leave the party, he was struck by a stray bullet.
"I just started screaming," Ms. Gunner told CNN. "I just prayed and asked the Lord not to take my baby. ... It's very hard. 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."
Elliott has in this three NFL seasons developed a reputation for excellence on the field, with two league rushing titles, and for people who do not know him, a reputation off the field colored by his 2017 six-game suspension for violation of the NFL's personal conduct policy. But as Jones pointed out, “These players can see through anybody. All you got to do is go in locker room, and you’ll see that Zeke is inspirational.''
Added Jones regarding the maturity of Elliott, 23: “There was really no doubt that some of those things that frankly reflect just a spirit of positiveness, a spirit of being alive, those kind of things took some adjusting. ... Zeke has always had a wonderful heart.''
Having said all of that, Elliott surely does not want this story to be about him. There is another day to explore his offseason full of Cowboys-related feel-good stories, to explore team COO Stephen Jones flatteringly labeling him "the straw that stirs the drink,'' and to discuss new contracts and rushing titles and title contention. Rather, it's appropriate that this story be about the passing of a talented little boy in St. Louis, Jaylon McKenzie, whose first spoken word, according to his mother, was "ball.''
"He wasn't a man of many words," Ms. Gunner said of Jaylon. "He had a humbling personality. He wasn't very outgoing, but everybody knew him and loved him."