Former Illini football player dies during practice in Minnesota - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Former Illini football player dies during practice in Minnesota

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A suburban football standout who went on to be a part of the University of Illinois football team died Monday night while practicing with the team at Winona State University in Minnesota.

Twenty-two year old Shawn Afryl, from Skokie, was pursuing his teaching degree at the university and was also continuing his playing career when he collapsed. Paramedics tried to revive him, but were unable to.

“The most I can tell you at this time is there was some medical condition that was unknown to Sean, myself and everything,”said his mother Sue Afryl

Mrs. Afryl, still reeling from the news, sat on her front steps in Skokie with Shawn’s girlfriend and tried to let memories carry her through her grief.

“People need to know that he was my sunshine and everybody's sunshine,” Mrs. Afryl said through tears.

Sean was a standout offensive lineman at Niles West High School and then was part of the University of Illinois team, playing in one game in 2012. He graduated with a degree in Political Science and then was able to continue his playing career at Winona State. He unfortunately collapsed and died while practicing Monday night.

“I know it's cliché to say, but he was my other half. Everything I wasn't, he was,” said Shawn’s girlfriend Hannah Malic.

Friends set up a fundraising page to help Mrs. Afryl pay for the cost of returning Shawn's body to Skokie and his funeral. By Tuesday night, they had eclipsed the goal of $20,000.

One of Shawn's former teachers at Niles West stopped by the family’s home with food, and positive memories of how Shawn made her son's 11th birthday party special.

“So, Shawn came up from Champaign and sat with all of these little people and they went outside and they went over to the park, and they played football for like two hours and just had a great time, and Declyn said it was the best birthday party ever had,” said Lisa Dunham, who taught Shawn’s child development class.

Mrs. Afryl said her son was an incredibly giving person. She related a story of how one year when Shawn could not afford his size 16 cleats for football, his coach at Niles West made sure he got a pair. That lesson shaped his attitude towards others. Mrs. Afryl said any money raised beyond what will be needed for funeral expenses will be put into a fund to help other struggling students get the sports equipment they need to pursue their dreams.

“He was an incredible giving, kind man, and there is no mother that could be any prouder than me to call him their son,” Mrs. Afryl said.

"All of us in the Fighting Illini football family are greatly saddened by Shawn's passing last night," Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said. "He was a great teammate and a dedicated student. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."

Mrs. Afryl called Shawn her "hero."

"He had the biggest heart in the world, and was a leader with kindness of soul. He was, and is, my hero," Afryl said.

She said her son's goal was to become a high school history teacher and coach.

Visit the GoFundMe page if you want to help with covering Shawn's burial expenses. His visitation is set for 1-9 p.m. on Friday at Haben Funeral Home in Skokie. Details on his funeral are still being worked out, but his mother hopes to have it at Niles West High School.

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