It was easily the most thrilling and fortuitous interception of an opponent’s forward pass in the seven years KTEA-FM has provided play-by-play broadcasts of Coast Union High School football, and to some watching and listening that Saturday afternoon at Dunn School in 2013, it seemed a gift from heaven.
How appropriate that the gift was delivered by a young man named Angel Avina, who will have a prominent part in this column a bit later.
Let’s first go back to Oct. 5, 2013, when perhaps the best Bronco football team in a generation was on the road at the private Dunn School in the Santa Ynez Valley to face the Earwigs. Coast Union needed a win in the worst way, because of the dramatic turn of fortunes that occurred the week before at home — and because of the game’s playoff implications.
The Broncos had lost a heartbreaking home game to Laguna Blanca 50-48 on Sept. 27, the team’s first setback.
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In the waning moments of that game, senior quarterback Avina, who gained 228 yards rushing and scored three touchdowns, was a few yards from scoring his fourth TD when the football was stripped from his hands.
Later, on his way to another, potentially game-saving score, the football was again stripped from Angel. Those two fumbles contributed significantly to the Broncos’ loss.
The next week at Dunn School, Coast was leading 39-34, but the clock was running down and the Earwigs were just a few yards from scoring the winning touchdown. Avina, who gained 100 yards rushing, scored two touchdowns and passed for 172 yards, was in his strong safety position on defense when Dunn’s quarterback went back to pass.
“They had one receiver out, and we had one cornerback guarding him,” he said. “I kept my eyes on the quarterback, who did play action (faking to a running back), then a pump-fake pass to another receiver.
“That’s when I knew he would pass to the first receiver. That’s our play. That’s our bread-and-butter play. As soon as I saw the pump fake, I took off in the direction of the first receiver. The quarterback knew he had our cornerback beat, but I saw the ball in the air.
“He could have put that pass in front of the receiver, and they would have scored. But I got under it, came up with the interception, and that was the most exciting play I’ve ever made.”
After that turnover, the Broncos let the clock run out and sealed the victory.
Having accepted responsibly for that devastating loss the previous week, Avina was suddenly the deserving redeemer.
I was broadcasting the game with my partner, Steve Spisak, on the bed of his Ford pickup truck (there were no bleachers or other facilities at Dunn), and after Angel’s remarkable interception, we abstained from any thought of dignity. We screamed, we yelled, we rocked the Ford pickup, and right now I can see Avina going up in the air to bring down that interception — and save the game — as though it happened an hour ago.
In an interview conducted this past week, on a windy day at Shamel Park — a year after his graduation — Avina said his sports involvement at Coast “definitely shaped me as a leader.”
“When I was in middle school, I’m wasn’t learning leadership yet. I didn’t really understand at that time that I could help these kids. I was thinking about myself and what I could do to make an impact, but only from an individual standpoint. When I got to high school, I realized it was a team game.”
Avina was the varsity basketball team’s MVP his senior year and remembers his style of leadership included “not necessarily calling out players’ mistakes but telling them, ‘Here’s what you can do better,’ and pinpointing positions they could take on the court that would help the team.”
Today, the subject of “help” is still paramount in Angel’s life. While many of his peer group and teammates are in college, Angel is working three jobs in order to help his mother, who isn’t able to work because of a disability.
“I do as much as I can to help out,” he said, noting that two older brothers also contribute to the household.
After graduation, Avina attended Cuesta College for a semester, but he wasn’t ready to commit his full energy to education.
“I’ve done construction, landscaping work, other odd jobs,” he explained while the wind whipped over the tall shrubs protecting the picnic area from the ocean.
Currently, he works two restaurant jobs in Cambria and one in San Simeon, busing tables and serving food and drink to customers.
His immediate personal goal is to save money and travel in Europe. “All the culture, all the history” in Europe beckons him. “My parents came from Mexico, and they haven’t seen the world outside of the continental United States. It’s my goal to see Europe.”
Charlie Casale, head coach for that 11-2 football team, was asked to contribute to this column.
Casale said that besides Avina’s “diving interception in the fourth quarter (that) sealed the victory” at Dunn School, he “was an outstanding field leader … and had a great year at strong safety on defense.”
“He was our most valuable player on a team of outstanding players,” Casale explained.
In fact, he gained 2,066 yards through the air (26 TDs) and 1,259 on the ground (18 TDs) in 2013.
The fact that the Broncos were blown out in the CIF Division 7 championship game is just a foggy, faraway memory, but Avina’s remarkable play that sultry October afternoon — and his talent and grace as a player and person — will be part of Coast Union lore for a long time to come.