Winona State football player dies in practice

Shawn Afryl, a transfer from Illinois, was 22

A Winona State football player died in a voluntary conditioning session Monday night, according to Warriors Associate Head Football Coach Cam Keller.

Shawn Afryl, 22, collapsed approximately 20 minutes into the workout, which was held outside at 7:30 p.m. at Maxwell Field on campus in Winona. Paramedics tried CPR, but were unable to save him. At this time, Keller said the official cause of death is unknown. Afryl’s high school football coach Curtis Tate said the family was told Afryl died of cardiac arrest because of an enlarged heart.

“All of our strength staff are first aid, CPR certified. One of our strength staff [members] was on him immediately to start CPR. He did that until the paramedics arrived. There was an ER doctor on the ambulance. So the reality is every resource that he had available to try to save him, everything was in his favor. It just didn’t go that way,” Keller said.

“Obviously we’re shocked. You question why these things happen.”

Afryl played football for three seasons at the University of Illinois, before transferring this summer to Winona State. An offensive lineman, he graduated with a degree in political science and had one season of football eligibility remaining.

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

“He was a kid that definitely had a jump-start back into his football career,” Keller said. “He was excited to be here. He was working extremely hard with our guys and we had some very high expectations for him this fall.”

Afryl, at 6-foot-3, 310-pounds, was going to be a defensive lineman with the Warriors. In his short time in Winona, Keller said the team was impressed by his “tremendous work ethic.”

Winona State head coach Tom Sawyer said Afryl had shown maturity and leadership.

Keller said the players are taking it hard. They held a team meeting Tuesday night. Grief counselors have met with the players that were at Monday’s practice.

A fund has been set up by Afryl’s family to help with burial and funeral expenses.

“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,” Shawn’s mother Sue wrote on the fund page.