DESOTO COUNTY, Miss. — A DeSoto County family is mourning the loss of a professional football player who was shot and killed in Walls, Mississippi over the weekend.

On the gridiron is where Christian Saulsberry shined. It’s where his mother, Melissa Smith, saw a twinkle in his eyes at a young age.

“I said Christian, if you really want to play professional football. I said you got to do it the right way and you got to listen to me and he said yes ma’am,” she said.

These mother-son photos paint the picture of their “momager” and athlete relationship.

Saulsberry skyrocketed from a standout player during his high school years at Southaven High School and Northpoint Christian School to college at West Alabama. 

His family made critical sacrifices and cheered him along, even as he faced adversity during the pandemic.

His mother will never forget the moment he achieved his dream of going pro by signing with the Edmonton Elks in Canada earlier this year.

“He took his shirt over his head and he said no and he just started crying. He knew he had made it,” Smith said. “I never dreamed that my baby would leave so soon.”

Sadly, his dream was snatched away days after his 25th birthday. According to the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office, Saulsberry was at a party in Walls, Mississippi on Saturday when he was shot in the stomach and leg.

His mother said he was celebrating his best friend’s birthday when the suspect, 24-year-old Mark McDaniel, started an altercation.

“The young man threw up behind his bestfriend’s mom’s couch and left it,” Smith said. “There was an event that transpired in the bathroom with this same guy, explicit stuff where the shower rod and shower curtain were tore down.”

She said McDaniel was told to leave multiple times but refused. He’s now charged with second-degree murder, a charge Saulsberry’s family wants to be upgraded.

“He had a choice. We all have choices. He sat there even after being asked to leave,” Smith said.

His life and career were cut short just as he was making a name for himself. Smith said her new purpose is keeping his legacy alive.

“Christian, I love you. I’m so proud of you and son I will never stop working for you. I got big plans for your name,” Smith said.

Tributes continue to pour out Monday night for Saulsberry from the mayor of Southaven to his teammates and pro teams. The Edmonton Elks Football Club released a tribute video in his honor Monday afternoon. 

A vigil will be held for Saulsberry at Northpoint Christian School on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.