INDIANAPOLIS -- The call came in the early morning hours, jarring Shaun Ellis from a deep sleep. Two buddies were on the line with some news that would shake the veteran defensive end even more.
His best friend, Yusef Jenkins, was dead, shot five times in an altercation that began when he returned a car seat to the mother of his child in Anderson, S.C., where he and Ellis grew up.
"They were like,
Yusef is gone. He's dead.' I'm like,He's dead? Stop playing,' " Ellis recalled. "And, sure enough, it was a true story."
The funeral was four days later, and Ellis went home to pay his respects.
"He and I grew up together since we were knee-high," Ellis said. "We always played sports together -- basketball, football, baseball. He was my teammate. It definitely hit me very hard to go see him buried."
"I just want to go out and just play hard for him and just keep his memory alive," Ellis said Wednesday, speaking publicly about the tragedy for the first time. "He's one of the reasons that basically kept me motivated. Every day I think about him. It's a tough pill to swallow. I miss him."
The killing was part of a tumultuous year for Ellis, who gained a son, was sent packing from a job he held for more than a decade, and was hired for a new one under Bill Belichick in New England. He also had hip surgery, and his mother had a quadruple bypass.
"It's been a wild ride," Ellis said.
Ellis, who was let go by the New York Jets after 11 seasons, was signed by the Patriots after the NFL lockout ended. He had other opportunities but chose the Patriots because he felt they had the best chance to win a championship. He admitted that "it was weird" to play for the Jets' fierce rivals but said he was welcomed warmly, particularly by offensive players who were happy they wouldn't have to face him twice a season.
"From day one, when I first got here, Tom embraced me," he said.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press