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Originally published Monday, August 27, 2012 at 8:02 PM

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Auburn's Kevin Shelton plays through heartbreak of losing his big brother

Kevin Shelton, one of the area's top recruits, finds inspiration a year and a half after his brother Shennon "Skeevie" Shelton was killed.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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AUBURN — There's a hole in Kevin Shelton's cheering section.

And an even bigger hole in his heart.

When Auburn High School opens the 2012 football season against Kentwood on Friday night, nearly two dozen family members will fill the Troy Stadium stands in support of Shelton, the latest in the family's lineage of outstanding players.

But for the second straight season, the clan won't include a key figure in Kevin's life, older brother Shennon "Skeevie" Shelton.

Kevin was 15 when 22-year-old Skeevie, the man he considered a mentor, died in his arms from a gunshot wound in April 2011.

"Nobody's been the same since," said Kevin, a senior. "It's a hard thing to go through."

The event haunted him throughout a rocky 2011 football season in which the Trojans missed the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Kevin, who started as a sophomore at tight end, didn't feel he played to his potential the first half of the season, then realized he didn't want to let Skeevie down.

"I tried to play for him and work harder, because I knew he was watching," said Kevin, who ultimately earned first-team all-league honors at linebacker in the SPSL 4A North Division.

Skeevie, a middle-school coach who studied ministry, was the second of four brothers, all football stars at Auburn. He and Kevin were most alike, while Gaston "Tui" Shelton and Danny Shelton share similar body types and personalities. Tui is in the Army and often away from home. Danny is a sophomore at Washington and projected as a starting defensive lineman.

Whenever possible, they attend Kevin's games and greet him on the field afterward. That's when Skeevie is noticeably absent.

"It's a big deal to have my family there, and it's kind of heartbreaking not having Skeevie there also," said Kevin, who also has an older sister.

Some youngest brothers grow up with bravado. Kevin lacked self belief, until Tui, Skeevie and Danny built him up.

"When I was younger, I always had doubts about myself," Kevin said. "All my brothers just kept telling me I was going to be the best of all of them. ... Shennon's been the biggest motivation I've had.

"He was just my best friend. Before he passed away, we did everything together. Growing up, I always wanted to be just like him."

Now Kevin plays for him while trying to help return Auburn to prominence.

"He's all my inspiration," Kevin said.

On and off the field. Skeevie preached about being a good person first, then a good player, and pushed academics. Kevin lives up to those expectations.

He carries a 3.9 grade average, and coach Gordon Elliott calls him a natural leader, one of the reasons he has an offer from West Point. Most of the Pac-12 schools have also shown interest. Kentlake coach Chris Paulson said he s most impressed with the poise and discipline Kevin shows.

Danny Shelton claims Kevin, who is 6 feet 3, 243 pounds, matured faster than the rest of the brothers and is the fastest learner. Their mother, Oneone, calls him the jokester of the family, always trying to make his siblings laugh.

Much of the laughter has been missing the last year and a half, gone with Skeevie's smile. But Kevin Shelton is finding joy on the football field again, playing in his memory.

Sandy Ringer: 206-718-1512 or sringer@seattletimes.com

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