Aspiring Winona State football player dies during workout

  • Article by: DENNIS BRACKIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 23, 2014 - 12:51 AM

Shawn Afryl was taking part in a voluntary workout Monday night.

A former University of Illinois football player hoping to play his final collegiate seasons at Winona State University collapsed and died Monday night at the Minnesota school.

Shawn Afryl, 22, was taking part in a voluntary strength and conditioning workout on a practice field Monday evening when he collapsed, according to Winona State associate head coach Cameron Keller. Keller said school officials had not been told a cause of death, but Afryl’s ex-high school coach, Curtis Tate, told the Chicago Tribune he died from cardiac arrest. He spent Tuesday with Afryl’s family, the paper said.

Keller said no coaches were present, because of NCAA rules. But the program’s strength and conditioning instructors were present, and administered CPR until paramedics arrived, the coach said. He said the conditioning staff members are trained in CPR.

Although temperatures reached 90 degrees Monday in Winona, Keller said that medical personnel have not discussed heat as a factor with school officials, and Keller noted that Afryl collapsed shortly after the start of the evening workout.

Afryl’s mother, Susan, wrote Tuesday on the website — she successfully raised more than $20,000 in pledges to help with Shawn’s burial costs — that her son was practicing at Winona State, where he had received a scholarship for the coming season. “His goal was to become a teacher of history and coach in a high school setting. My heart is aching … the pain is devastating. He had the biggest heart in the world, and was a leader with kindness of soul. He was, and is, my hero. “

Afryl’s photo was displayed on the home page of the University of Illinois athletics website, with messages from his former Illinois coaches and teammates. Afryl, who was listed at Illinois as a 6-3, 310-pound offensive lineman, redshirted one season with Illinois and was active for two other seasons, playing in only one game. He took off the 2013 season — leaving him with two seasons of eligibility — and graduated with a degree in political science in August of 2013.

Afryl, despite his limited playing time, was clearly popular with his Illinois teammates.

“Shocked and saddened to hear the news of Shawn Afryl’s death. Was one of the best people you could ever meet,” junior tight end Jimmy Nudera wrote in a tweet.

“Speechless about Shawn Afryl’s death. Great teammate and a great person,” tight end Matt LaCosse tweeted.

Illinois coach Tim Beckman called Afryl “a great teammate and a dedicated student” in a statement on the school website.

Keller said Winona State knew of Afryl because the Minnesota program has recruited several other players from the Niles West area, and the WSU staff had built a relationship with the high school. Afryl had moved to Winona a month ago and was scheduled to begin summer classes in education to achieve his goal of becoming a teacher and high school coach.

Winona State recently hosted its annual one-week teams camp for local high school football programs, which attracted almost 700 kids, Keller said. Afryl worked as a counselor during the camp, and Keller said WSU coaches caught a glimpse of Afryl’s personality

“We really got a chance to see his passion for football, and how excited he was to teach young people,” Keller said. “Our kids were really starting to take to him — he was already a part of our family. Obviously, everyone is extremely devastated by the loss.’’

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