Zeke to pay for 8th-grade football player's funeral

GRAPEVINE, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott will pay for the funeral expenses of Jaylon McKenzie, a promising eighth-grade football player who was killed by a stray bullet as he left a party near St. Louis on Saturday night.

Elliott, who grew up in St. Louis, reached out to the family shortly after the tragedy. The Cowboys confirmed Elliott's gesture, but the running back wanted to keep the matter between him and McKenzie's family.

"Zeke is really a special guy," coach Jason Garrett said Wednesday at the team's sponsors' golf tournament at Cowboys Golf Club. "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."

McKenzie's mother, Sukeena Gunner, said her son was trying to leave a party in Venice, Illinois, when a fight broke out. According to Illinois State Police, McKenzie was struck by a stray bullet and died at a local hospital. A 15-year-old girl was also hit and remains in critical condition.

McKenzie, who was already receiving college scholarship offers as an eighth-grader, had been selected to compete in the All-American All-Star Game in Canton, Ohio, during the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction weekend.