EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Corey Ballentine said Sunday that he feels as though he is finally beginning to move forward after the tragic draft night shooting that left his friend Dwane Simmons dead, and left him with a bullet wound in the rear end.
“I feel like I’m finally starting to get somewhere,” Ballentine said one day after making his biggest play of training camp, an interception of a Kyle Lauletta pass. “Now I feel like I’m finally starting to move forward and now I’m making plays. It was just kind of rewarding to know that the hard work and the long nights of staying up are paying off.”
Ballentine, 23, was wounded April 28 when he and Simmons, his Washburn University teammate and best friend, had gone out to celebrate Ballentine’s sixth-round selection early that day by the Giants.
The two were outside of an off-campus house party hours after the Giants selected Ballentine when someone opened fire from a vehicle.
Ballentine called it a “tragic event.”
“I don’t think there was anything that I had to do with it,” he said. “I just happened to be there. Nothing that I could control.”
The arrest of Francisco Alejandro Mendez, who was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and five counts of aggravated battery in connection with the shooting, provided Ballentine with some relief.
“I was glad because a lot of people were looking for answers from me that I didn’t really have. I was glad that somebody else could take that away from me and provide the families a little bit of closure,” he said.
“I don’t know all the details myself, I just happened to be there.”
Giants’ CB Corey Ballentine trying to move forward after "tragic event" https://t.co/HuWKCPQJKa— Big Blue View (@bigblueview) July 28, 2019
Ballentine missed a few weeks with the Giants, returning in mid-May after being given time to recover both physically and emotionally.
“There’s been a lot of highs and lows. Trying to stay focused on football now,” Ballentine said. “I’ve been kinda trying to deal with it on my own. The Giants have been helping me, therapists. I just kinda realized I can’t keep myself in that mental space. I’ve got goals to reach ... I’ve gotta do my own thing and keep progressing. Life’s not gonna wait on me.”
He also knows the Giants, who invested a draft choice in him, are done waiting.
“They’re not going to wait for me here. They’ve given me time to think about it and ponder on everything that happened and recover and everything,” Ballentine said. “I think personally it’s time for me to be strong now. I can’t keep thinking about that. I’ve gotta move forward. If I want to make this team I’ve gotta learn the plays, I’ve gotta execute, things like that.”
Coach Pat Shurmur said more or less the same thing when asked if he still talks with Ballentine about the shooting.
“No. We’ve moved on from it,” Shurmur said. “It’ll always be a part of who he is, but we don’t talk about it.”
Ballentine admitted that “it took me a little bit” to be able to concentrate on football.
Corey Ballentine admits thinking about Dwane Simmons "every day." pic.twitter.com/LGYX4CIgRa— Big Blue View (@bigblueview) July 28, 2019
“I think about it [Simmons’ death] every day because it was somebody that was in my life every day. It’s hard to fill that gap. I haven’t filled it yet, but I’m trying to move forward,” said Ballentine, who has been undergoing counseling. “I have goals to accomplish here. The playbook I’ve gotta learn, other things that I’ve gotta learn, so I just can’t keep myself in that place, but I think about it every day.”
Ballentine, who has no tattoos, said he has though about getting one to honor Simmons. The best way to honor his friend, though, will be by becoming a successful NFL player.
“I think he [Simmons] helped me get here every step of the way. I feel like I’m kinda doing it for both of us,” Ballentine said. “I spent the most time with him, I was best friends. I’m just gonna try to keep him in my heart, but at the same time try to strive for the goals with the team and also my own goals. Just do my best.”