AUSTELL, Ga. – Denver Broncos wide receiver Kenny McKinley was remembered Monday as a model teammate with a body-shaking laugh that could provide much-needed breaks from locker room tension.
Family, teammates and coaches were among several hundred people who gathered at a suburban Atlanta church for the 23-year-old's funeral.
McKinley died last week at his home near Broncos headquarters in Denver. Authorities believe he shot himself in the head because he was depressed after his second straight season-ending knee surgery.
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who's also from Georgia, was among several Broncos teammates who flew back for the service. He said McKinley came into the locker room and "taught 61 men how to laugh every day."
"If we ever had a hard moment, we always depended on Kenny to make us laugh," he said.
McKinley's parents, Kenneth and Karen, and sisters Kimberly and Kayla, were joined in their mourning Monday by many friends and family members.
"He chased his dream, he made his dream," said John McKinley, Jr., of his nephew's having made it to the NFL. He added that the player seemed "full of joy" when they had dinner shortly before his death.
McKinley was a football standout at South Cobb High School in Austell, Ga. and a fifth-round draft choice out of South Carolina in 2009. Sections of the sanctuary reserved for people associated with South Cobb and the Gamecocks were packed.
"He loved football, he loved people and he just loved to laugh and smile," high school coach Derrick Cook said. "Kenny was that kid that made us all better, whether you were his coach or his friend or just saw him in the hallway."
Cook remembered a giving, loyal, thoughtful young man whose whole body would shake when he laughed.
"They say the brightest stars in the sky burn out the quickest. I wasn't sure I believed that until today," Cook said.
McKinley had a unique combination of toughness, intelligence and love of the game, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said of the player he recruited and coached.
"Everything he represented as a person and a player was tremendous," Spurrier said. "I'm always thinking about how I need to find another Kenny McKinley."
The day before the funeral, McKinley's teammates observed a moment of silence before their loss against the Indianapolis Colts. The Broncos also wore No. 11 decals on their helmets for the game and held a private memorial service with eight of McKinley's family members Friday at their training facility.
Before the funeral service, mourners filed slowly past the open casket at the front of the sanctuary, where McKinley lay dressed in a light gray suit and peach-colored tie. A Broncos helmet sat atop an arrangement of blue and orange flowers on the casket.
McKinley's aunt Cathy McKinley Toliver said the family was finding some comfort in their faith and sang an emotional solo that brought the mourners to their feet. Family friend Rev. Michael V. Smith delivered a eulogy to end the two-hour service.