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Fueled by death of two brothers, undrafted Patriots rookie pursues roster spot

D.J. Killings returns an interception for a touchdown vs. Tulsa last November. (Getty Images)

Growing up in Miami, D.J. Killings and his six brothers were all about football. Their father, Fred, a member of the Howard University hall of fame as a running back, coached the boys in Pop Warner, and the sport bonded them.

Killings took his love of the sport to Central Florida, and is now an undrafted rookie with the New England Patriots, but as outlined by Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald on Friday, he’s no longer motivated solely by love of the game.

While Killings was at UCF, two of his older brothers were murdered. Fred was killed during D.J.’s freshman year in 2013, and Reggie was killed two years later, when D.J. was a junior. Another brother, Aaron, said D.J. idolized Fred and Reggie.

“It was hard for him,” Marquis Killings told Guregian of D.J. “Football and school got him through it. But he knew he couldn’t give up. (Playing football) was (Fred and Reggie’s) dream. He could make them happy by fulfilling his dream, but also fulfilling their dream. It’s just like they’re all together. Once he’s on the field, it’s like they’re living through him. So he couldn’t give up.”

“How he managed to get through it, I can’t even tell you. Our whole younger life was about football,” Aaron said. “It was embedded in us. School and football. But I definitely feel like he’s carrying the torch. He and (his brother Fred) played the same position. He taught him everything he knows.”

Though he struggled as a junior, after Reggie was killed, D.J.’s performance as a senior last fall garnered attention from NFL scouts. Listed at 5-foot-10, 187-pounds, he posted a 37.5 inch vertical and 4.48-second 40 at UCF’s pro day; if money is an indicator, he was a priority free agent for New England, which gave him an $11,000 signing bonus and $20,000 in guaranteed money (relative to other undrafted rookies around the league, these are considered high amounts).

He’s been given No. 29 with New England, and was part of the team’s recent rookie mini-camp. There’s still a long way to go to show he deserves a spot on the 53-man roster come September, but given all he’s already been through, Marquis believes just making it this far is a huge achievement.

“It’s the best opportunity of our life, of his life. It’s fulfilled his dream, and to show us, coming from what we came from, the bad things we had happen to our family, finally, there’s some good,” he said. “It’s just a blessing. Everyone’s proud of him. It’s God’s will. I feel like I made it. He made it. That’s what having a shot with the Patriots feels like for us.”

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