ROSSVILLE, Ill. – Daniel Huffman (search) gave up football eight years ago when he donated a kidney to his grandmother so that she could live. Now his grandmother has lost her hero.
Huffman, 25, was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head Monday at his home in central Illinois. Authorities said there was no sign of foul play and family members and friends are struggling with the possibility that he may have taken his own life.
"He was always so happy, so fun," Huffman's grandmother, Shirlee Allison, told the Chicago Tribune for Sunday's editions. "He put a lot of joy into everyone's life. He was always doing things for you, making you feel so special."
Huffman, a defensive tackle on Rossville's high school football team, decided to put away his football gear in 1996 for his grandmother, whose diabetes left her seriously ill and in need of a kidney transplant.
She could have waited for a transplant, but Huffman, then 17, did some research and pressed doctors to allow him to be her donor. He loved football, but the sacrifice meant he could no longer play contact sports.
Huffman had the surgery the summer before his senior year, and word spread about the boy from Rossville, a small town about 130 miles southwest of Chicago.
Sports Illustrated did a story on him. He was honored with a Disney Wide World of Sports Spirit Award (search), and Florida State University gave him a scholarship even though Huffman couldn't play football again.
A television movie was even made about his donation: "Gift of Love: The Daniel Huffman Story," which starred Elden Henson as Daniel and Debbie Reynolds (search) as his grandmother.
But Huffman didn't think of his donation as an act of heroism.
"If you love someone and you can help them, any way you can, you're going to do it," he told The Associated Press in 1999.
Huffman spent three years at Florida State, working as an athletic trainer and later in the sports information office. He moved back to Illinois in 2000 after his grandfather died to help care for his grandmother.
Huffman began working in various security jobs, and every weekend he would visit Allison, take her shopping and do her laundry. Friends say he recently talked of completing his college degree, and dreamed of someday teaching college English.
His best friend, Shaun York, discovered Huffman's body in the garage.
"There is no answer," he said. "No one knows why. No one. I've racked my brain ever since. I'm his best friend, just loved him to death and I just don't know."