By John Philip Wyllie
Two weeks ago, Eric Avila became the first male athlete in 16 years to win an individual CIF cross country championship for Bonita Vista High. He completed the hilly 3.04-mile course in just 15:58, a whopping 16 seconds ahead of the second place finisher in a field of over 200 qualifiers. Last week, he went on to finish third in the state competition, just a few seconds behind the leader. And the fleet-footed senior is not done yet. This weekend he will be competing in the western regional competition. With a good showing there, Avila will gain entrance to the national championship meet which will be held next weekend right here in San Diego.
“Last year I finished seventh in the state meet, so I definitely wanted to improve on that this year,” Avila said. “Coming into the season I wanted to finish in the top five, but as the season went along I raced against (and defeated) some of the guys that I knew I would face in the states. So coming into the race, I thought I might be able to win it. I led through two miles, but with a half mile to go my side started hurting and I started to tire a bit and fell back. Two guys got by me and beat me by three or four seconds. I was a little frustrated afterward, because I knew I could have got them.”
Avila will get a second and then possibly a third opportunity to face them. A top eight finish in this weekend’s western regionals is what he will need to advance to the national championship. As confident as he is talented, Avila believes he will make the cut.
“Last year, I finished 12th in the regionals, so I missed the nationals. This year I am ranked fourth behind the two guys that beat me and another guy from New Mexico that I have never seen.”
Should Avila qualify for the nationals, he and the other athletes will enjoy a one week stay at the Hotel Del Coronado, but that is not all.
“Olympic coaches will work with us for a week and several Olympic athletes will come out and train with us,” Avila said. “You get to represent your region plus they give you a new uniform. It will be covered by ESPN so it’s a pretty big deal. All of the college coaches will be there too, so you get a chance to talk to them as well.”
While cross country scholarships are few and far between, Avila is one of the elite few that is talented enough to land one.
“I’ve got a few colleges in mind, but I haven’t chosen one yet. I wanted to wait until the end of the year with all of the hype from the CIF, regionals and nationals. I’m not going to sign until February or March, but in between I plan to visit several good schools.”
Avila has about a dozen schools that he is seriously considering. All of them are in the Western United States.
“My mom would (ideally) like me to stay local so that she can see me run in college, but my parents are O.K. with me going out of state as long as it is west of Colorado. A lot of the schools that I am looking at are in Southern California, so I may not be going too far.”
While Avila’s college plans are at this point still uncertain, one thing is clear. Whichever school gains his services is going to be getting one phenomenal athlete.