Former WSU football player continues giving after death

22-year-old Shawn Afryl died during practice in July

Winona State University played it’s first home football game Saturday and it kicked off by honoring a player who wasn’t in the lineup.

Shawn Afryl, 22, died on the field in July during a voluntary workout with teammates.

Winona State University honored Afryl’s family before Saturday’s game.

Shawn’s mother Sue Afryl called her son “a gentle giant.” She said he was a very kind, giving person, who loved to help people.

And Shawn will continue to help people even though he’s gone.

The Winona State Football team can march onto the field with their heads held high. Knowing their former teammate Shawn Afryl is watching over them.

Before kickoff, the team gave Shawn’s family his jersey, number 56.

“Though we lost him, he passed away doing what he loved to do the most,” Afryl said.

“It’s going to be hard, but Shawn was one of those people that–you could never forget him. He’s with us every day,” Shawn’s girlfriend Hannah Malic said.

Shawn will most definitely not be forgotten because his family has created a foundation in his name. The Shawn Patrick Afryl Shoe Fund gives shoes to kids who can’t afford them.

“He enjoyed giving, he enjoyed helping. That was really his calling, he loved to help,” Afryl said.

When Shawn joined the football team his freshman year of high school, the price of equipment was nearly too much for his family to afford. Especially his size 16 cleats.

“At the time we were having a rough time financially,” Afryl said.

Because he believed in Shawn so much, his high school coach bought him new cleats.

“Shawn never forgot that act of kindness,” Afryl said.

Shawn wore those cleats all four years of high school, and when he graduated, he went to the University of Illinois where he was given all the shoes he could ever need.

“Shawn and I talked about giving back all the time. I said, ‘Shawn, what do you think you would want to do to give back when you’re able to?’ He said, ‘Mom, I’m going to buy kids shoes that need them, I’m going to get their cleats if they cant afford them. I’m going to get them,'” Afryl said.

And Shawn did just that.

“Whenever he would come home (from college) he would bring the good pairs home and give them away to somebody else who needed them. So this (the shoe fund) is just continuing what Shawn was already doing. He was giving,” Afryl said.

There were about 22 of Afryl’s family and friends that made the drive from the Chicago area to be at the Warriors game Saturday.

Before and during the game, Winona State University asked for donations from fans for the shoe fund.

Afryl said earlier this week she received a donation of about 50 pairs of cleats that she has already given to a school in inner-city Chicago.

If you would like to make a donation to the Shawn Patrick Afryl Shoe Fund, click here.