Jaylon McKenzie was a 14-year-old from Belleville, Illinois and rising teen football star that was tragically shot and killed on Saturday, May 5, 2019. The eighth-grade football phenom was featured in the “Future” issue of Sports Illustrated in November 2018 and had planned to go to the NFL and wanted to play for either the Rams or Chargers Los Angeles.
Jaylon’s mother, Sukeena Gunner, confirmed that the teen was shot and killed at a party on Saturday night around 11:40 PM. According to his mother, Jaylon and a few friends had planned to stop by the party briefly to pick something up from a friend when a fight broke out. Jaylon left the party during the scuffle when a stray bullet hit him. He was immediately taken to the hospital but died shortly after arriving.
As reported by Sports Illustrated, Jaylon was thrust into the national spotlight after he caught five passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns in a standout performance that led the East team to a victory at the 2018 8th Grade All-American Game in Canton, Ohio. He was one of the best young prospects in the country and already receiving D1 scholarship offers at just 14 years old.
He Received Scholarships from the University of Illinois and University of Missouri
Despite being only 15 years old, Jaylon had already secured full-ride scholarships from the two D1 schools. He received both offers in 2019 and was likely to get several more based on his potential and continued high-level performance. McKenzie had not yet entered high school and was already guaranteed to play in D1 football and was seemingly destined to play in the NFL.
Receiving football scholarships from colleges at 14 years old is extremely rare and highlights just how talented the young star was.
Jaylon Mckenzie Was a Gifted Athlete in Several Sports
In an interview with KDSK news, Al Lewis, who coached Jaylon on the Southwest Illinois Jets basketball team, spoke about his athleticism.
“I talked to his dad about this a lot. If he wanted to focus on basketball he absolutely could have played in college,” Lewis said. “He had a natural athletic ability you can’t teach, but he didn’t put in the extra work on basketball like he did in football because that was his focus. If he did, there would have been no limit.”
Lewis also praised Mckenzie for his quiet demeanor and work ethic, “You hear this a lot when something tragic like this happens, but Jaylon truly was a great kid,” Lewis said. “You know how you have star athletes? He was as naturally gifted as any I’ve seen, but if you were just hanging around him, you wouldn’t know him from the 12th man on the bench.”
Jaylon had been a football star since he was 7 years old. Local paper The Belleville News Democrat interviewed spoke to his former coach Brian Buehlhorn from his first team, the Belleville Little Knights, who told the Belleville News Democrat last August that “he would often have to remove Jaylon from games because he would score every time he was handed the football.”
He Wanted to Follow in the footsteps of NFL Player Adoree Jackson
When asked in an interview with Sports Illustrated what he wants to accomplish, Jaylon answered, “Make the NFL.” He wants to follow in the footsteps of Titans’ cornerback and hometown legend Adoree Jackson. Adoree is also from Belleville, IL, went to school at USC in Los Angeles, California, and played on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Adoree Jackson was aware Jaylon idolized him and mourned the young star on Twitter.
He Comes from a Family of Athletes
According to the Belleville News Democrat, Jaylon came from an athletic family. His dad, Otis Gunner, played football and was a track star at East St. Louis High School. His mom, Sukeena Gunner, played volleyball at East St. Louis and played college volleyball at Jackson State University in Mississippi. His older brother, Brandan Jenkins, is a member of the Belleville West track and field team.
He was mourned by Professional Athletes and Politicians
In addition to sports media outlets, several NBA and NFL players offered their condolonces to Jaylon McKenzie and his family. He was already well known among the professional athlete community as the next big football star. Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum and NFL player Earl Bennett both weighed in on Twitter.
State Representative LaToya Greenwood also posted about Jaylon on her Facebook page. She shared a picture of the two holding his Sports Illustrated story.