- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

SKOKIE, Ill. (AP) - The mother of a former Illini football player who died of cardiac arrest on the practice field has started a fund to buy athletic shoes for financially struggling families.

Shawn Afryl died of sudden cardiac arrest in July 2014 at Winona State University in Minnesota, where the 22-year-old was completing his college football career after graduating from Illinois. After he died his mother, Sue Afryl of Skokie, started the No. 56 Shawn Patrick Afryl Shoe Fund in his memory.

Shawn was the beneficiary of a similar kind of charity. His Niles West football coach gave him a pair of cleats when he couldn’t afford his own. He wore them for four years of high school football and earned a scholarship to Illinois, where he played for three seasons as a guard.

The black, size-16 cleats were a part of her son’s journey, Sue Afryl said. She keeps the mud-encrusted shoes displayed on a shelf at her home in Skokie. Her son took them with him when he went to Illinois and then again to Minnesota.

“As he progressed and got better, those shoes took on a whole new meaning and a whole new life,” Afryl told the Chicago Tribune, (https://trib.in/1Kg1smr). “They’re so much a part of who he was and what he did.”

The fund, held in a trust at Evanston Community Foundation, is $4,700 short of the $10,000 needed for perpetual status. Sue Afryl recently delivered dozens of shoes to Muchin College Prep in Chicago and current and former Illini players are saving their extra clears to donate to the fund.

“We’re a family who very much believes in giving back, even if it’s small,” Sue said. “I asked Shawn, ‘What is it you would do to give back?’ He said, ‘Mom, it’s easy. I’ll start buying kids cleats who can’t afford them so they can play.’”

Shawn, 6-foot-4 and 310 pounds, received at least three pairs of cleats per year as a Division I athlete. He would give them away to Niles West players and other area athletes who needed cleats.

Curtis Tate, the former Niles West coach who bought Shawn his high school cleats, said Shawn’s dedication was unmatched.

“Shawn was a talented kid because of his work ethic,” Tate said. “He would just rep, rep, rep something until he got it. He just worked so hard, you would know he’s going to get it.”

Sue Afryl said she wants other athletes to know Shawn’s story. Vouchers for cleats will have a tag that tells his story.

“Now when anyone gets a pair of those cleats with that note, it’s kind of like Shawn now saying, ‘Go grab your chance,’” Sue said. “‘Go reach for your star.’”

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, https://www.chicagotribune.com

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