People who knew U.S. ArmySgt. Odin Ayala when he was a teen knew he was destined for success.
His athletic ability made him a standout at Calexico High where he was the Bulldogs’ quarterback and safety throughout his high school career.
Those that coached him or saw him play say the same thing — he wasn’t the biggest or the fastest but he was smart, hard-working and had plenty of heart.
“That’s Odin in a nutshell,” said former Calexico head football coach Richard Gonzalez, who coached at Calexico from 1997 to 2001.
He coached Ayala up to Ayala’s junior year before retiring. He was also Ayala’s physical education teacher when Ayala was in junior high.
“I recognized he was one of our best athletes,” Gonzalez said. “I watched him grow as a player.”
Gonzalez is also the one who turned Ayala from a hard-hitting defensive back to the team’s starting quarterback his junior year.
“After his sophomore year I told him I was going to make him the quarterback,” Gonzalez said. “He was hesitant … I figured he was a good athlete and we could teach him to be a quarterback.”
The transition didn’t come easy.
“I took him in the gym in the summer, the old gym. I took him in there just to throw some footballs around … he was right, he couldn’t hit the side of the barn,” Gonzalez joked.
But as the season progressed, Ayala improved. It was Ayala’s arm that helped them get one of the team’s most memorable wins of that season, 2001.
Calexico was 3-1 in Imperial Valley League, losing only to Brawley Union High and looking to finish second with a win against Southwest High.
Down by two scores in the fourth quarter, two passes from Ayala resulted in two scores to tie it and force overtime.
The Eagles took the lead in the overtime before Calexico had its chance to tie.
“We scored a touchdown and then we ran a bootleg pass (for a 2-point conversion). He ran it to perfection,” Gonzalez said. “That’s my definition of Odin … not being able to hit the side of a barn to throwing it down the field to perfection.”
City Councilman John Moreno was there to see it happen, including Ayala’s entire high school career as a radio broadcaster.
“He was very dedicated, very skilled and he was a very good leader for his team,” Moreno said. “When he was on the field, he would take charge … he wasn’t big or the fastest but he had a big heart.”
In Ayala’s senior year, he elected not to play at quarterback and focus on safety. That same season he was selected the All-Imperial Valley Press Defensive Player of the Year and had seven interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
“It was pretty exciting when coach told me (about the designation),” Ayala said in an article that announced his award on Dec. 22, 2002. “It’s surprising. I wasn’t really expecting it. It makes me glad to know I helped the team. It shows me that I did my job.”
Ayala was doing his service for the U.S. Army on Sept. 14 in Afghanistan while he led his platoon on patrol when an improvised explosive device caused him to lose both his legs.
Those that know him say that’s not going to slow him down.
“We’re all very saddened that this happened but if there’s anybody that can overcome this, it’s him,” Gonzalez said. “He’s those type of personalities that are positive and always moving forward.”
Join the discussion and add your comments to this story! Scroll down or click here and tell us what you think.