Cornerback Darrent Williams was killed in a drive-by shooting on New Year's Day, 2007, and running back Damien Nash died three months later after collapsing following a charity basketball game. On Monday, second-year receiver Kenny McKinley(notes) was found dead in his home in Centennial, Colo., according to the Associated Press. Initial reports indicate that McKinley's death was a suicide.
There's little connection among the three deaths, and only two Broncos players -- cornerback Champ Bailey(notes) and linebacker D.J. Williams(notes) -- have been with the team long enough to see three teammates depart so tragically. In a football crazy city like Denver, however, fans must be wondering how such sadness could be visited upon them.
It is a particularly startling story, because the young player's future was tinged with equal parts on-field promise and injury frustration.
At South Carolina, McKinley was so good, the Gamecocks tried to retire his jersey number before the mandatory five-year wait. He was so good, Steve Spurrier's team didn't miss Sidney Rice(notes) as much because McKinley put together a spectacular (though injury-shortened) senior season. He was so good, he passed Sterling Sharpe on the school's all-time list in school records, and finished his collegiate career with 207 receptions, third-best in SEC history. Injury issues dropped his stock in the 2009 NFL draft, but the Denver Broncos took McKinley in the fifth round and hoped that his elite speed (a 4.37 40-yard dash at the scouting combine) would show at the NFL level, and that prior injuries would stay in the past.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen. McKinley played in eight games in 2009 before losing the rest of the season to a knee injury, and was placed on injured reserve for the 2010 campaign when he was hurt in the first week of training camp. The Broncos were intrigued with his potential, and head coach Josh McDaniels was generally positive when asked about McKinley's progress as a player.
Now, McDaniels has to remember a player gone far too young. "Kenny had a promising future on the football field, but more important, he was a great teammate whose smile and personality could light up the room," McDaniels said in a statement Monday night. "This is a tragic loss for our football team, and his family is in all of our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time."
The shock of the suicide is that there were no reported emotional problems in McKinley's past -- he was, by all accounts, a happy person with a ready smile. "He was one of the funniest guys I knew," former Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley(notes) told the Denver Post. "Everything he said and everything he did was funny. That was his personality -- he was always happy. A lot of people say that about people that passed, but that's the truth. He was always a happy, funny guy. That's what makes this so devastating."
"I've got a lot of emotions," McKinley, a high school quarterback, told the Charleston Post and Courier on the eve of his final college game. "I've got uncles and cousins and lots of people coming out for this game. It's my last time in Williams-Brice. Hopefully it'll be a memorable one. I've got a lot of memories here. This is where I started my receiving career."
Tragically, the Broncos have now seen the end of that career, and of that life. Once again, those around a young Denver player must remember their teammate, pick up the pieces, and go on.
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