ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said in a tearful news conference Tuesday that nobody in the organization saw any hint that wide receiver Kenny McKinley was suicidal before he took his life.
“We’ve all seen him recently. He’s been the same person every time we see him. Liked junk food and chips and things like that,” McDaniels said. “He was in the cafeteria, or in the training room, when we were seeing him the last so many weeks here. Nothing that would alarm us to anything like this.”
McKinley’s body was discovered by a female friend Monday afternoon when she returned to his Centennial home less than four miles from the team’s headquarters after running an errand with his young son, Keon.
Arapahoe County Coroner Michael Dobersen said Tuesday that McKinley, 23, died of a gunshot wound to the head. He said a preliminary investigation “suggests the wound to be self-inflicted.”
The team gathered Tuesday morning and met with grief counselors to help them deal with the death of their friend, who was on injured reserve after hurting his left knee in August and requiring surgery for the second time in eight months.
The players decided to leave McKinley’s locker in place for the remainder of the season as a shrine to their teammate with an infectious smile who was always quick with a joke.
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard said McKinley was his usual joking and jovial self in recent weeks, something his college teammates agreed with after he visited the South Carolina campus earlier this month.
McDaniels said the Broncos will observe a moment of silence Sunday before their game against Indianapolis and players will wear white decals with the No. 11 in navy on their helmets.
McKinley was part of McDaniels’ first draft class and McDaniels said nobody’s been more excited to get that phone call than McKinley was.
He said he saw McKinley less than two weeks ago in the team cafeteria and saw him smiling as usual.
“You could see all of his teeth. Usually could,” McDaniels said. “I don’t have any memories that are really negative about Kenny, because of the spirit he had.”
Woodyard said he saw McKinley a week and a half ago when the receiver was retrieving some items from his locker at Dove Valley. They ribbed each other, as usual.
“He had a big smile on his face. He just walked out of the building,” Woodyard said. “And that’s the last thing we remember, that huge smile.”
Woodyard said nobody saw any signs that their friend was hurting on the inside.
“Every memory that we have of Kenny is a joke and a big smile,” Woodyard said.
He said the Broncos will prepare for their game against the Colts with heavy hearts.
“We’ve got to play with him on our shoulders and in our hearts,” Woodyard said. “So, I think that’s something that’s going to allow us to continue to push through this week.”
This is the third time in four years the Broncos are dealing with the death of a teammate under stunning circumstances.
Cornerback Darrent Williams, 24, was slain in a drive-by shooting on New Year’s Day 2007, and three months later backup running back Damien Nash, 24, collapsed and died after a charity basketball game in St. Louis.
McKinley’s agent, Andrew Bondarowicz, said family and friends are at a loss to explain the death of a young man “who had such a love for life.”
“Everybody has their explanations, their own theories. Whether it was injuries, no one’s going to know for sure,” Bondarowicz said. “It’s a tough situation all the way around.
“Some people speculate that it was his being injured, some said it was financial challenges. … It’s a tragic situation.”
Bondarowicz said funeral arrangements were pending. He also said he’s been in touch with team and the players’ association about setting up a trust fund for McKinley’s son.
McKinley was a fifth-round draft choice out of South Carolina in 2009. He remains South Carolina’s all-time leading receiver with 207 catches for 2,781 yards. He returned to the school earlier this month, watching the Gamecocks beat Georgia 17-6 and visiting with his college coach, Steve Spurrier.
“Had a wonderful smile just like he always did,” Spurrier remembered.
The news of McKinley’s death spread quickly at the end of South Carolina’s practice Monday. Players who normally sprint off the field upbeat walked slowly with their heads down.
“Kenny was certainly one of my all-time favorite players. It’s hard to figure out why it happened like this,” Spurrier said.
McKinley played in eight games as a rookie in 2009 with seven kick returns for 158 yards before going on injured reserve with a left knee injury on Dec. 29, two days after he was hurt in a game at Philadelphia. He recovered and participated in the team’s offseason workouts but got hurt again during the first week of training camp and was placed on IR on Aug. 5.
AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., and Pat Graham and Associated Press Writers Catherine Tsai and Peter Banda in Denver contributed to this story.