LAWRENCEVILLE — “Tye Toss” was exactly what it sounds like.

Steven Singleton, a former Buford High and Southeastern Conference football player, would pick up his girlfriend’s 4-year-old son Tye Hardin and toss him, aiming for a soft spot for him to land, sometimes the couch. Then the boy would get up and go back for more from the 6-foot-2, 300-pounder.

This friendly game, according to testimony given in court Friday, was Singleton’s most recent explanation for what caused the child’s fatal injuries in late April. Now charged with murder, Singleton reportedly claimed he missed the couch and Tye hit the floor.

But Gwinnett County police detective Patrick Watson said the autopsy findings suggest that Tye died of another cause. The boy’s injuries, which included hemorrhages in both eyes and bruising, appeared to resemble “shaken baby syndrome,” or close head trauma, the detective testified during the preliminary hearing.

Watson offered no motive for why the former University of South Carolina offensive lineman would hurt the boy. By the accounts the detective has heard, Tye and Singleton had a loving relationship.

But he said Singleton was the only person in his Lawrenceville-area apartment when Tye got hurt. He also offered different versions of what happened before the boy was ruled brain dead at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta — Scottish Rite and Singleton ended up frantic and distraught.

Singleton, a 26-year-old with a foreboding stature and black thick-rimmed glasses, wore a jailhouse jumpsuit and hunched over a table in court listening intently and somberly as Watson detailed the case.

Watson said he had confirmed many statements Singleton made about the events leading up to the Tye’s death. The man had indeed been watching him at his apartment in the 3400 Club Drive complex while the mother was away. They had been to Zaxby’s and Walmart.

In Singleton’s initial interview, Watson said he claimed was in another room when he heard a thud in the living room and found Tye on the floor near the coffee table, “groggy.” He picked him up, headed for the bathroom and accidentally hit his head on the door frame.

The autopsy didn’t appear to match that story, Watson said.

In his next statement, Singleton revealed the game, which he said they also played after they woke up that morning and had a workout together. After Tye hit the floor in the second game of the day, he was unconscious, Singleton reportedly said.

By the end of the interview, the suspect was “tearful and upset, distraught by the situation,” Watson said.

Given the “Tye Toss” story, Singleton’s attorney, Teri Thompson, asked Chief Magistrate Judge Kristina Blum to reduce the murder charge to involuntary manslaughter.

The game, as the detective described it, could’ve been “negligent or downright dumb,” Thompson said, but it wasn’t malicious.

Blum declined.

She said Thompson may prove to be right in the end, but that would be decided later in the process, after more evidence came out in a higher court. The detective was the only witness Friday, and Thompson offered no evidence. Blum found probable cause for the state to proceed with its case.

Family members at the hearing in support of Singleton declined to comment, partly because they felt the media was not reporting the case factually.