BELEN—It was as if the entire stadium had the air sucked out of it.

During a Belen Eagles home football game on Oct. 21, Diego Avila limped off the field with an apparent knee injury. It didn’t look good.

Belen’s Diego Avila seeks a third straight wrestling title despite a knee injury. (Mike Powers | News-Bulletin photos)

“I was really hoping it was just a hyperextension,” Avila said recently. “The docs said it felt loose but my family just didn’t want to believe it.”

An MRI confirmed the worst.

“It turns out it was completely torn,” Avila said of his anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, the ACL. “It was a bummer. After seeing the MRI, I cried a little bit.”

And, no doubt, Eagle Nation did as well.

Avila is an all-state running back, a standout baseball player, and a multiple state champion in wrestling at 132 pounds.

It appeared the rest of his junior year would be consumed with rehabilitation, not competition. However, appearances would be deceiving.

Belen High School junior Diego Avila tore his ACL during the football season.

Shortly after practice started in December, Avila was back in the wrestling room, training for the season. How could that be?

“I’m already a two-time state champ. I want to be the first four-timer in Belen,” Avila said. “We opted out of surgery until after state this year.”

At 14-0 this season, so far, so good. While his toughest matches are likely still ahead, including the regional meet starting Friday, Avila remains dominant on the mat and

“It’s working almost normal,” Avila said of the knee. “It’s unstable really, but that’s what my brace is for, so that nothing gets worse. My knee has been working. It doesn’t give me much pain, so I figured I could get through the season without anything getting worse.”

BHS coach Nick Sanchez admits to holding his breath a little bit when Avila takes the mat.

“He’s a little more cautious in what he does,” Sanchez said.  “He’s very aware of his injury.”

Every day on the wrestling mat, Sanchez sees what drives Avila.

“He just wants to be the best. He wants to be the best in the state. Diego is a freak athlete.”

After his surgery at the end of February, Avila expects recovery to take six to nine months. That will mean missing the baseball season and at least part of the football campaign.

“Hopefully, I can get back to football next year,” he said. “I’ll be really working hard in physical therapy.”

He plans to suit up for football at least one more time.

Avila isn’t sure what is ahead in athletics after graduation, trying to stay philosophical.

“Really, whatever comes. I love all my sports.”

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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.