Avila tackles adversity

Avila tackles adversity

By Terrance Peacock

Playing collegiate football is a dream come true for most players. Unfortunately, that dream can be taken away from them for the rest of their lives with one play.

Some may take it as a disappointment that they are no longer able to perform on the field, but one SIU football player took it as an opportunity to not only help the team in any way possible, but also learn valuable life lessons along the way.

Juan Carlos Avila is a fifth-year senior linebacker for the Salukis. He came to the program in 2009 as a preferred walk-on, worked his way into the rotation and eventually earned an athletic scholarship.


After not playing much his freshman season, Avila’s time finally came his sophomore year as he played in the Salukis’ first 10 games and recorded six tackles. Avila was a mainstay in the Salukis’ linebacker rotation—until he suffered a concussion that put him out for the rest of the season.

He returned in 2012, his junior season, determined to pick up where he left off before his concussion. Before the season, he participated in spring ball, then the unthinkable happened—he tore his ACL.

Avila’s ACL tear caused him to miss the entire 2012 season.

“It was rough, I never had knee problems or anything before,” Avila said. “I knew that I still had another year to get back at it, so I continued working hard, rehabbing every single day.”

Avila was so relentless in his pursuit to get back on the field, he called the athletic facilities his home.

“I dedicated myself to living here,” Avila said. “All the things that I needed were here; school, study table, watching film, coaches, working out in the weight room and rehabbing. I also had a sleeping bag, so I slept in the locker room sometimes for naps.”

Avila came back his senior season ready to go. The coaches even switched him to defensive end, which Avila said was his natural position. Avila said he was comfortable and was even selected a Warrior Elite Captain during the winter among his peers.


He returned to spring ball with all his injuries left in the past, and on one day, his fate on the football field was determined. Avila tore his shoulder and re-tore his ACL on the same day, causing him to miss his entire senior season.

“I came back to practice a week later and I just couldn’t go anymore,” Avila said.

One would think Avila was disheartened when he realized his football days were over, but instead, Avila said he took it as a message.

“The hardest part for me was my junior year when I tore it the first time,” Avila said. “It’s pretty drastic when something like that happens. It was easier my senior year because I was used to not playing. I think it was a message that I shouldn’t be playing anymore.”

Avila returned to his hometown of Aurora for surgery when he received a phone call from Clete McLeod, Saluki Athletics head strength and conditioning coach.

“I got a phone call from Coach Clete saying he wanted me to help out,” Avila said. “He wanted me to work in the weight room with the freshmen. That’s when it all started.”

Avila then received a call from Eric Schmidt, SIU football inside linebackers and special teams coach, asking if Avila could help out coaching the scout team and special teams.

“The coaches said they loved for me to be a part of the team if I was dedicated to it,” he said. “I knew I wanted to give back and to give a good look to the defense or offense as a scout team coach. I wanted to do it.”

Avila said suffering multiple injuries on the football field taught him lessons he otherwise may not have learned if he stayed healthy.

“Through the things I’ve went through, I was able learn how to get through adversity, but continue to be committed to the team,” he said. “My commitment right now is to be able to help out the coaches as much as I can.”

Coach Dale Lennon said Avila’s story could be disappointing, but because of Avila’s passion it has developed into a story of success.

“It’s one of those stories that he is going to make into a success story,” Lennon said. “He’s just that type of an individual that is never going to be defeated and will make the best out of any situation he’s put in. The players look up to him, he might have even been voted captain if he had been healthy enough to play for us. He’s thought of that highly within the team.”

Senior linebacker Houston Walker came to SIU in 2009 along with Avila. He said although Avila is not able to step into the trenches for battle with the rest of his teammates, Avila is still considered a leader of the team.

“Every day he’s like, ‘Hey, give it your all this time because I can’t,'” Walker said. “(Avila) is right here and will give anything just to suit up right now and play this game, so when you see that you see leadership and that he’s loyal to still be here even though he can’t practice or play.”

Walker said even the time commitment Avila gives to the team even though he cannot play, shows how committed he is to Saluki football.

“People see what he goes through and yet he is still here,” Walker said. “He puts in tons of hours when he’s here and not even on the field, but people see that and are like wow, that is Saluki football.”

Avila also considers himself a leader, especially to the freshmen.

“Through all the adversity I’ve faced, they can learn from what I’ve done so far and how you have to continue through the hard times,” he said.