MISSION – When Alfredo Ayala heard his named called as the winner of the Tom Landry Award of Excellence at the 2017 All-Valley Sports Awards Banquet, he walked onto the stage trying his best to suspend shock and joy before hundreds of applauding guests. Shock because of his past, and joy because of where he found himself on Saturday night. 

“I still can’t believe that this happened,” Ayala said. “When I was taking pictures, I was shaking. I didn’t know what to expect. It’s crazy.”

Ayala spent most of his life in a single-parent household after his father left the family. His grandmother took his mom and siblings in after the family had nowhere to go. His grandmother was diagnosed with cancer, and her death was the hardest day of his life. Ayala vowed her memory would not be in vain. 

“I made a promise to live my life the way she did: full of optimism and positivity,” Ayala said. 

When Ayala was old enough to work, he began picking up shifts at McDonald’s to help his mom make ends meet. Through it all, Ayala participated in 10 school-related activities and competed in athletics. 

“My mom was the main motivation,” Ayala said. “Seeing her struggle, with all of my siblings, I knew that I wanted to provide a better life for them.” 

Ayala was an accomplished basketball player for McAllen Rowe. He had been named a starter and captain during his sophomore campaign and was one of the fiercest defensive players in District 30-6A. A weightlifting session before his senior year would change the trajectory of his future. 

“One time in the weight room, I was going at it with some football players. We were getting a good workout in, and one of the football coaches came up and talked to me about joining the team,” Ayala said. “I thought, ‘Why not?’”

“I loved football from the first moment I stepped out on the field. I think it was my calling.” 

During his senior year, Ayala primarily played tight end, catching 12 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns. He also played middle linebacker some, as well. Ayala was a first team all-district selection at a tight end. 

“I didn’t think the game would come this easy to me,” Ayala said. “I struggled really bad during the first week of spring ball. I didn’t know what was what. The coaches and the players helped me out by encouraging me to keep going and giving it all that I had.”

Off the field, Ayala finished with a 4.0 grade point average, good for the 12th highest average in Rowe’s 2017 graduating class of 448 students. Ayala’s grades were impressive enough for Wabash College in Indiana to award him with a full academic scholarship. He will also play college football at Wabash. 

“Hopefully, I can bring a sense of hard work and dedication (to Wabash),” Ayala said. “I want everything I do, with my workouts and my character, to help the team get better on and off the field.” 

Ayala was also endowed with a $3,000 check by virtue of winning the Tom Landry Award of Excellence. 

“I’ll probably use it for food and maintaining myself up there,” Ayala said. “If I can give some of it back to my family, I’m going to give some back.”

The award will always hold special meaning to Ayala. 

“It’s a door-opener,” Ayala said. “Being awarded this shows accomplishments can come from true dedication in what you believe in.”