A Winona State University football player who collapsed and died during an on-campus workout Monday night likely died of a previously undetected heart condition.
Shawn Afryl, 22, was practicing with a few teammates in a voluntary workout session at Maxwell Field and collapsed. Chris Tate, his high school football coach who is acting as the family's spokesperson, said the family was told by a coroner that he died of cardiac arrest related to an enlarged heart, according to reports.
“He had a medical condition that no one knew about. ... He had an enlarged heart, but it was undetected," Tate told the Winona Daily News.
Afryl, who is from Skokie, Illinois, was recruited by various colleges out of high school and ended up playing two seasons at the University of Illinois. He graduated with a degree in political science in 2013, and went on to enroll at Winona State to pursue a teaching degree and continue playing football, according to the Chicago Tribune.
He wanted to become a teacher and a high school coach, the Star Tribune reports. Afryl arrived in Winona about a month ago and had already started taking classes, reports say.
In the short time he was at Winona, his coaches say he made a big impact.
“In the time Shawn was on campus, he showed a lot of people what a great fit he was going to be not only for our football program but for our campus as well,” WSU football coach Tom Sawyer said in a statement. “He did an excellent job as a counselor during our team camps, and his leadership qualities and maturity were a valuable asset to our successful camps. He will be sorely missed.”
“He was someone our guys were starting to really look up to,” WSU assistant football coach Cameron Keller told the Winona Daily News. “He had a big impact in the short time he was here, just in kind of how to lead your life.”
Shawn Afryl's mother, Sue Afryl, called her son a "hero" and said he "was a leader with kindness of soul," according to Chicago's FOX 32.
“People need to know that he was my sunshine and everybody's sunshine,” his mother said through tears, the news station says.
“I know it's cliché to say, but he was my other half. Everything I wasn't, he was,” said Shawn Afryl's girlfriend Hannah Malic told FOX 32.
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Former teammates and friends took to social media to post their condolences. The University of Illinois posted some of the tweets on its website.
Here is a sampling:
Friends and family have posted a request for donations to help defray funeral costs on the website gofundme.com. As of Thursday it had raised almost $33,000, eclipsing the $20,000 goal.
Some of the donations were for $56, which was Afryn's football number at Illinois.
“Shawn was just an unreal all-around person,” Tate said, according to the Star Tribune. “His goal was to teach and to help kids. Our focus right now is getting the foundation started in Shawn’s name.”
Winona State says it expects to have details about the foundation finalized by this week, including how to make a contribution, the newspaper says.
Sue Afryl told the Chicago Tribune she hopes to set up a fund called the Shawn Patrick Afryl Shoe Fund to help young athletes in need purchase sports equipment.