"He was all heart. He was not a great player, but he played hard," his father, John Graf, said. "He probably would not have started this year. But he told me last year he had a chance to start on every special team and be the backup guard. That's all he wanted. He knew he was not the team's star player."
Now because of a spring break accident, he's no longer a player.
Accident happened in Florida
He was in Florida with the Manual baseball team and was playing football on the beach with seven friends when they decided to jump in the ocean to wash the sand off.
"Eight went down to the beach, seven came back," John Graf said. "It was about waist deep where he dove in, but there was a sand bar about a foot down. He didn't realize that."
His teammates didn't know he was hurt. When they noticed he wasn't with them, they returned to the ocean to look for him. By then, he had drifted about 100 yards down the beach and 50 yards out into the ocean because he had crushed his fifth vertebrae.
"He actually drowned, but we were lucky that an EMT (emergency medical technician) happened to be on the beach because a beach watch had started a week earlier," John Graf said. "The EMT thought he was snorkeling at first. Then a wave hit and he saw his face was blue. If he had not been there, Shawn would be gone. He quit breathing for three minutes.
"A week later he quit breathing again. But both times, he came back. Now he's doing as good as he will. He's still paralyzed. He can move his left arm and he's getting some movement in his right arm. There's no way to tell exactly how he'll be. You just don't know. Only God knows what will happen."
Certainly Shawn and his family never expected this when they left for the spring break baseball trip. He has a 3.9 grade-point average. He already had made a 30 on his ACT and had over 130 academic scholarship offers.
He returned to school this week
He returned to school this week despite being paralyzed from the neck down. He's thankful for that opportunity and appreciative of what others have done for him. Two weeks ago the first Shawn Graf Invitational was held to raise money for his care. Former Manual teammate Keenan Burton, now a sophomore at Kentucky, was among those attending.
"A lot of players came. It was really a great day," John Graf said.
Saturday will be for Shawn Graf, too. He refuses to feel sorry for himself. At a recent Manual scrimmage, he had his wheelchair almost on the field.
"He's still part of the team and nobody will tell him any different," his father said. "He wants to come to this game. He's still his own man. He'll be right there with his jersey believing Manual is going to win.
"He's happy. His life is still good from his perspective. It's never been, 'Why me?' We don't do that. It happened and we deal with it. There's no question I am the worst in the family. His mother is happy as long as he's breathing. Shawn stays positive. I'm the worst because I look at the future and know it is not where it was five months ago. That's hard to forget."
Actually, it's impossible to forget, but we all also should remember just how courageous this young man is and applaud him for the determination he's still showing. Shawn Graf may not play Saturday at Admiral Stadium, but the young man in the wheelchair on the Manual sideline is still going to be one of the bowl's stars because he's showing us all what determination really means.