It was supposed to be a night of celebration for Corey Ballentine. The cornerback out of Washburn University in Topeka, Kan. was selected by the New York Giants in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Ballentine is the sixth Washburn player overall selected in the draft and the first since 2008. It was the culmination of a lifelong dream, especially since Washburn is a Division II school whose most famous alumni include former United States Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, television journalist Bill Kurtis, and actor James Reynolds (best known as Abe Carver on the soap opera Days of Our Lives).
Ballentine’s selection at No. 180 was the highest in Washburn history. As expected, he was in extremely good spirits after the Giants took him.
“It’s a crazy dream until you do it,” Ballentine tweeted. “I can’t even explain the emotions I have right now. S/o (shout out) the people that told me to pick a more realistic career. This is as real as it gets. Thank you to the Giants organization for believing in me. It’s only up from here. #GiantsPride”.
Unfortunately, celebration turned to tragedy in the early morning hours of Apr. 28. Ballentine was shot and wounded at an off-campus party. His best friend and teammate, defensive back Dwane Simmons, was killed. According to Simmons’ father, the pair were asked by two men they didn’t recognize if they had marijuana. When they said no, they were shot.
“This is a unique situation and we want him to get full closure on his end,” head coach Pat Shurmur said after a rookie minicamp practice that took place without Ballentine. “We’re sensitive to that. This is a real-life situation. We want him to make sure he gets full closure. It’s May, we play in September.”
Ballentine, who was shot in the buttocks, was told by the Giants to stay home rather than attend the rookie minicamp.
“He was the victim of a crime,” Shurmur said. “He’s a great young man. We got to know him really well through the draft process. My son (Kyle) trained with him…so I have intimate knowledge what a great young man he is. It’s very unfortunate. That can happen to any of us. He’s going through the vigils and things he has to go through and we’re here to support him as he comes back to us. We’re just here for him.”
Ballentine has quietly been making his way back to the football field. Last week, he was part of individual drills during the Giants’ organized team activities (OTAs). On Tuesday, he participated in 11-on-11 drills for the first time, working with the third team.
“He’s doing what he can do,” Shurmur said. “He looked good moving around and he’s getting better every day.”
The Topeka Police Department is still investigating the shootings but the case remains unsolved.
“At this time there are no additional updates in the Simmons/Ballentine case other than our investigators continue to work strong leads in the case,” the Topeka Police Department said in a statement Tuesday.
Two weeks ago, Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran said witnesses at the scene were being interviewed.
“There’s a lot of working parts to it, a lot of individuals that saw a lot of things that took place,” Cochran said in an interview with KSNT-TV. “We’re very confident that we’ll bring this to a successful conclusion. It might be another month or so, but we feel very confident.”
WFAN’s Mike Francesa criticized the Giants for selecting Ballentine.
“When you finish your draft and stress how you went out of your way to take the right kind of guys, guys that you want on the team, guys that are going to be great character guys and you stress that as strongly as the Giants did, it looks pretty bad when one of them gets shot on a Saturday night,” Francesa said. “It does not look good. It’s just more of the same for the Giants, who just can’t get out of their own way, no matter what they say.”
Francesa’s words inspired a passionate response from Ballentine’s father.
“My son is a grown man. He can go out and celebrate a little bit. Who doesn’t go and celebrate with their friends?” Karl Vaughn said in an interview with the New York Post. “I’ll tell you what. You can pick up every stone and every rock on the ground, and you won’t find a smidge of dirt tied to that boy.”
Shurmur said he is “certainly aware of some of that stuff” when questioned about the possibility that Ballentine brought this on himself or was in some way culpable.
“We know most if not all the details, so that’s really not for me to comment on,” Shurmur said.
The Giants sent senior vice president of medical services Ronnie Barnes and special assistant to the general manager Jessie Armstead to represent the team at Simmons’ funeral. Ballentine advised team officials he is not ready to speak at length about the shooting.