Friends, family and fans of former USC and San Diego Chargers football player Kevin Ellison are mourning his loss after he died while walking along a California freeway. He was 31.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Ellison died on the I-5 freeway in the San Fernando Valley on Thursday, Oct. 4, according to records from the Los Angeles County coroner's office.
However, his exact cause of death is unclear; an exam is currently pending.
USC confirmed the news in a tweet shared Saturday. "#FightOnForever, Kevin Ellison," the tweet read alongside a photo of him in his football uniform. "The former USC captain and 3-time Rose Bowl winner died this week. He was 31."
#FightOnForever, Kevin Ellison.
The former USC captain and 3-time Rose Bowl winner died this week. He was 31. pic.twitter.com/fDGatdQuMH— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) October 6, 2018
Ellison's brother, Chris Ellison, told the Times that Ellison was suffering from severe mental health issues. "He was disoriented and didn't know where he was at," Chris said. "I'm sure he was trying to come home and find his family. We love him so much... My mom and sister and dad and brother did everything they could."
Ellison dedicated much of his life to football; he played safety for the Trojans from 2005 to 2008 as a two-time All-Pac 10 selection for delivering hard hits. He recorded 170 tackles (96 solo tackles), 17.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks and five interceptions, all while battling knee injuries, according to 247 Sports. He was drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the sixth round of the NFL draft in 2009, where he played in nine games before briefly joining the offseason roster for the Seattle Seahawks in 2010.
While playing for the Arena Football League's Spokane Shock, Ellison faced federal arson charges in 2012 after causing $50,000 in damage by setting his bed on fire at a lodge in Washington. Court records state that he said God told him to set the fire. The case was eventually dismissed when he agreed to pay more than $80,000 in restitution.
His family told the Times that they planned on donating his brain to Boston University to be used in research studies for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain condition caused by repeated head traumas and often found in football player. His family believes CTE could be connected to his mental health problems.
Following the news of his death, his family, friends and former teammates remembered him fondly.
"Kevin was liked and loved by everybody," Chris Ellison told the Los Angeles Times. "His smile and personality would light up a room."
"Kevin Ellison was one of the first players to say hello," wrote Yogi Roth, who was an assistant coach for USC during Ellison's years at the university. "His grace became a trademark among his teammates, along with his incredible passion/intellect for the game. Much love to his family & friends. Gone too soon."
Can recall my first week at USC as an assistant on staff. Kevin Ellison was one of the first players to say hello. His grace became a trademark among his teammates, along with his incredible passion/intellect for the game. Much love to his family & friends. Gone too soon. ❤️??— Yogi Roth (@YogiRoth) October 7, 2018
Ellison's high school teammate Stephon Smith shared an emotional tribute on Instagram. “Today I lost another mentor and a friend in Kevin Ellison,” he began. “When I first started playing football, this man told me I would be something special one day. Not only did he teach me how to play the sport in the same physical way that he did but to also be a student of the game.”
“I hope now that he’s watching me with Coach Eddy and Coach Jasp knowing that I’m working as hard as I can in everything I do,” he continued. “One day, I’ll be in the mentor role and I hope to instill the same principles that he taught me when I first started playing.”