Jim Barker prides himself in always knowing what to say when a player approaches him with a problem.
But the Toronto Argonauts coach was left scrambling for the right words after tailback Cory Boyd told him about the suicide of one of his best friends, Denver Broncos receiver Kenny McKinley.
"I think I always have an idea of what to say," Barker said. "But this was one of the few times I didn't when he came to me with what happened, the circumstances and how close this person was to him.
"To have this happen to him, I just didn't know what to tell him."
McKinley, 23, died Monday of a single gunshot wound at his home near the Broncos' practice facilities. The second-year receiver, who had played sparingly as a pro, was reportedly depressed over a season-ending knee operation.
Boyd, 25, currently out of Toronto's lineup with a concussion, and McKinley were college roommates and teammates at South Carolina. Boyd is the godfather of McKinley's one-year-old son Keon. Boyd's wife, Brittany, and a friend discovered McKinley's body Monday.
"Numb, trying not to think about it," Boyd said in an interview Thursday. "It's sad but at the same time, I know I have to be here with my teammates, just to be around comfort."
After composing himself, Barker gave Boyd potential options but left the player to decide how he'd like to deal with McKinley's death.
"I told him to go home if he had to, stay with his family here if he had to, just do what you have to do," Barker said. "The one thing I did say is he's such a strong man that there's a reason why God put him into this position because of his ability to be able to handle that. Sometimes we wonder why is it always happening to us and I got the feeling he almost felt that way.
"He's a special, special man and he's here in Moncton spending a lot of time with kids. When I see him I get chills because he's such a great, great person."
For Boyd, there was nowhere he'd rather be than with the Argos in Moncton, where they will take on the Edmonton Eskimos on Sunday. Boyd is unlikely to play due to his concussion.
"It will really make me go into a spot where I would not be a good player for my teammates and football would not be anything important to me," he told reporters earlier this week. "I don't want to go down that route.
"I owe it to my teammates, I owe it to him, I owe it to his family and I owe it to God to keep pushing forward and just try to show a positive mindset and just a positive person going through this time."
McKinley's death is just another tragic chapter in Boyd's young life.
He grew up in a housing project in Orange, N.J., and his mother, a single parent, became involved in dealing drugs. She later went to prison and died there of a heart attack. Boyd was raised by his grandmother.
When Boyd was in high school, his girlfriend was shot and killed. His cousin also died in his arms after being shot.
Football proved to be Boyd's salvation. He accepted a scholarship at South Carolina and was drafted by the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008. After being released, he then spent time with the Broncos in 2009 before being let go.
In the off-season, Boyd, a deeply religious man, re-dedicated himself to football. He worked out from midnight to 4 a.m. daily so he could spend time during the day with his wife and family.
Boyd signed with the Argos in March and quickly emerged as the team's starting tailback. The six-foot-one, 218-pound player took the CFL by storm, becoming its leading rusher with 903 yards and averaging a sparkling 5.8 yards per carry before suffering a concussion in Toronto's 37-16 loss to B.C. on Sept. 11.
Boyd didn't play in Toronto's 17-13 win over Winnipeg on Sunday and lost the CFL rushing lead to Fred Reid of the Bombers, who enters this week's action with 906 yards.
On the field, Boyd is a determined, hard-running tailback who is just as comfortable barrelling over a defender as he is trying to outrun him. Away from it, he's a fun-loving gregarious individual who's always smiling.
When dealing with reporters, Boyd is patient, well-mannered and takes time to answer every question. At the end of every conversation, he's quick to offer a genuine "God bless," sentiment.
Fortunately for Boyd, many of his Argos teammates had no idea of his close relationship with McKinley.
"A lot of them didn't know and that was cool," he said. "That took a lot off of me not to have to keep having to answer the same questions, 'Am I okay? Am I going to make it through?' The more I keep hearing that the more it's like ... I don't want to think about it.
"I try to keep a smile on my face and try not to zone out as much and get to thinking. I've been there, I've really been there, to the point where you don't know what life is going to do for you and that's where my faith kicks in."
But he can't help but wonder if he may have missed signs that McKinley was in trouble.
"I think a lot of us, my wife, myself, my friends, you can just think back so many times to him saying certain things and were we really listening? It just makes you think and it's something I can't do right now."
The Broncos are leaving McKinley's items in his locker-room stall for the remainder of the season as a shrine to their teammate. The team will also hold a moment of silence Sunday prior to its game versus the Indianapolis Colts and players will wear decals with McKinley's No. 11 on their helmets.
The Broncos will hold a private memorial at their headquarters with McKinley's friends and family Friday. Members of the organization will attend McKinley's funeral Monday in Georgia. Boyd isn't sure if he will be in attendance.
Boyd said he spoke with McKinley during the Argos' bye week in August.
"It seemed like he was on the right track," Boyd said. "But every day you experience something in life that scares you away or distracts you and I think that is what happened."
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