Prep Wrestling

Lisbon 2-time state wrestling champ Robert Avila Jr. powered by family and faith

Junior 145-pounder looks for 3rd title this week

Lisbon's Robert Avila Jr. reacts after a win during the 2020 state wrestling tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moin
Lisbon's Robert Avila Jr. reacts after a win during the 2020 state wrestling tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Robert Avila Jr. was just 5 years old when he made an uncommon proclamation for someone so young.

He told his mother that he wanted to go to Turkey to wrestle and spread his faith. Avila recalled her reaction, ranging from amazement of his devotion and how he even knew about the country.

When his parents received a phone call about an opportunity for a week-and-a-half wrestling trip with stops in France, Bulgaria, Romania and, yes, Turkey, Avila believed he had a special purpose in wrestling.

“Just from getting the blessing and achieving something I said I was going to do at 5 years old, I realized God had given me something special,” Lisbon’s top-ranked 145-pound junior said. “I chose to use those talents he had given me to show the world how to be and give the best example of myself to others.

“He’s given me the ability. I have to do my part.”

Avila has thrived and utilized those gifts to become one of the state’s top wrestlers. He will attempt to win his third state title in the Class 1A state tournament at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines this week. Action begins Thursday with the first round at 9 a.m.

“Personally, I’ve felt the best I’ve felt all year,” Avila said. “I’m excited to wrestle, compete and have some fun out there.”

The journey began at a very young age. Avila said he attended his first practice at 3. Two years later, he wrestled in his first tournament. He doesn’t remember his initial reaction, but said he liked wrestling enough to keep working at it.

The sport is in his blood. His maternal grandfather wrestled in high school. He watched two uncles compete in high school and at the NAIA level. His father, Bobby, wrestled briefly as well.


“It was already on the family,” Avila said. “They kind of introduced it to me. I kind of did my own thing with it, I guess.”

Lisbon Coach Brad Smith said the entire family, which includes sister, Janell, who won an Iowa Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association girls’ state title last year, has a strong relationship.

“They’re really good people,” Smith said. “The whole family is like that. They’re very close.”

Faith serves as a source of strength and confidence in Avila’s life, including wrestling. To his family, faith is more important than wrestling and is a guiding force to all he does.

“It’s everything,” Avila said. “You take that away and you take everything else with it. It’s my No. 1 priority.”

Mesh that with a competitive spirit. Avila said he wants to win at all costs, finding a way to win whether it is in the state finals or video games against his siblings. He is driven to be the best in all he does.

“It’s more competition with myself, so I can push myself to be the best I can be,” Avila said. “How much more can you do today than yesterday? It goes with everything. If you take that and apply it to everyday life, you can become a much better person overall.”

Avila has been tremendous from his first day at Lisbon. He stepped in and won titles at 126 and 132 his first two seasons, compiling a 103-1 record. Avila entered the state duals meet with a 30-0 mark. The top seed opens with Ogden’s Avery McCloud (25-16).


“I think he’s one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the state,” Smith said. “I think he’s got a great future. He’s D-I caliber and can do some great things in college.”

Avila has a wide arsenal on his feet. He is quick and smooth, taking opponents down at will. He hasn’t been ridden much and worked on improving turns coming into this season.

His mentality is geared toward dominating foes. He wants to beat them so decisively that they don’t want to step on the mat with him again.

“I feel like the only thing that can stop me is myself,” Avila said. “That’s how I want it to be, really. I want to do the right things every day and pushing myself to be the best I can be.

“When I’m at my best, I’m in there getting my takedowns and pushing the pace and not letting the guy get an inch of space.”

Smith praised his mat sense and technique. He routinely sees Avila’s hard work and skill that is better than other high school athletes.

“If you see him wrestle in practice, you see how really good he is and all the things he can do that other guys can’t,” Smith said. “He’s a good athlete. He’s worked hard to get where he is at.”

Avila is one of seven vying for a third title this season. He witnessed former teammate Cael Happel become a four-time champion. Avila won’t fall in the trap of looking ahead and is focused on each round.


“It’s about what is happening now and how can I better myself,” Avila said. “Obviously, being a four-time state champion is my end goal, but my goal right now is to dominate my first-round match.”

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