The former athlete was walking along the California I-5 freeway shortly before being found dead last Thursday
Friends and family are mourning the sudden loss of former USC and San Diego Chargers player Kevin Ellison after he died while walking along a California freeway. He was 31.
Records from the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, obtained by the Los Angeles Times, revealed that Ellison died on the I-5 freeway in the San Fernando Valley on Thursday.
However, exactly how he died is not clear at this time and an exam is currently pending.
Following his death, Ellison’s alma mater confirmed the news in a tweet posted on Saturday, Oct. 6.
“#FightOnForever, Kevin Ellison. The former USC captain and 3-time Rose Bowl winner died this week. He was 31,” the school’s athletics program wrote.
Ellison’s brother, Chris, told the L.A. Times his sibling was suffering from severe mental health issues around the time of his death.
“He was disoriented and didn’t know where he was at,” Chris said to the paper. “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.”
While he spent a majority of his life dedicated to playing or coaching football, in 2012 Ellison was charged with federal arson after setting his bed on fire at a Washington lodge and caused $50,000 in damages, reports the L.A. Times.
In court documents obtained by the publication, Ellison was playing for the Arena Football League’s Spokane Shock during the time of the incident and claimed that “God told him to set the fire.” The case was dismissed after he agreed to pay over $80,000 in restitution.
His family also told the L.A.-based newspaper that they were planning to donate 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, often found in football players — which is something they believe could be connected to Ellison’s mental health problems.
Ellison played safety for the Trojans all four years of his college career (2005-2008). During his time on the red and gold, he received several all-Pac-12 safety honors, was named to the Sporting News Pac-10 All-Freshman first team and helped USC to win two Rose Bowl games, as well as one Orange Bowl game.
After wrapping up his collegiate career, Ellison was a sixth-round draft selection for the San Diego Chargers. He played with the NFL team as a safety for one season in 2009, seeing a total of 13 games.
He later joined the Seattle Seahawks in June 2010, but the experience was short-lived and he was released by the team three months later.
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Following his passing, those who knew and watched Ellison play expressed an outpour of love and support on Twitter, remembering him for his “grace,” “incredible passion,” and leadership.
“Kevin Ellison was one of the first players to say hello,” wrote Yogi Roth, a former assistant coach for USC from 2005-2009. “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.”
“No words accurately describe the loss of Kevin Ellison,” tweeted Michael Castillo, the head behind the Reign of Troy podcast, which focuses on USC football coverage. “A great leader and far and away the most under-appreciated Trojan of my lifetime.”
Ellison’s former high school teammate Stephon Sudduth also posted an emotional tribute to his friend 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.”