Niles West graduate Shawn Afryl participated in Illinios' spring football game Saturday. | Photo courtesy of Mark Jones/University of Illinois
Editor's Note: This story is from April 26, 2010.
Niles West alum Shawn Afryl wore his familiar No. 56 on the football field Saturday. But the team colors and surroundings were quite different from what he's used to.
Afryl, who graduated in January, suited up for the Blue team and played approximately 15 plays at guard in the University of Illinois' annual Spring Game. The contest, which brought an end to spring practice, was played in front of 5,832 fans at Memorial Stadium. The Orange, which featured first-teamers, won 24-6.
Even though he was on the losing end, Afryl won't soon forget his first experience playing in Big Ten game-like conditions.
"It was pretty surreal. It hasn't sunk in yet. It was shocking to be out there," the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder said afterward. "I got some reps, made some mistakes and did some good things, too."
Afryl, who's been practicing with the team the entire month, said it didn't take him long on Saturday to realize he was no longer playing against opponents in the CSL South.
"The first play I was in was a run play, and I got beat by the defensive tackle. But it was like, 'OK, I'm here,' " Afryl said.
Afryl, no doubt, learned from that play, and he has learned from every rep and film session this spring. His decision to graduate from high school early, and enroll in college and participate in spring practice, has almost certainly given Afryl a leg up on the other freshmen-to-be, who won't start practicing until August.
The former Wolves' offensive and defensive lineman said that his decision was a good one.
"Oh, definitely. I've bonded with the offensive linemen and the team, and learned a lot of the ways of the program," he said. "It will make it easier going to fall camp. I won't be lost. I'll have a little idea of what's going on."
The decision did not come without sacrifices. Afryl finished high school Jan. 13 and moved into his dorm the following day. He's away from his friends, and he's missing his senior track season and many of the good times high school seniors enjoy during their last semester together. He is planning to attend his senior prom.
But Afryl has no regrets.
"There always will be that one thing you wish you can do. I miss track with all my throwers," he said. "But I'm doing what's best for me. At times, you miss things, but you have to look ahead to the big picture."
Afryl said he would not be surprised or disappointed if he is asked to redshirt next season. Even if he does, however, he said he hopes to be part of the Illinois traveling squad for the game against Northwestern, which will be played at Wrigley Field Nov. 20.
"Oh, that would be awesome," said Afryl, a big Cubs fan. "To be at a football game, and at Wrigley. That would be awesome."