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FULL-COURT PRESS: Gago shows sportsmanship, earns respect

In the mind of João "John" Sousa Gago, it was just something that needed to be done.
Gago is a foreign exchange student from Lisbon, Portugal, who is attending Serena High School this year and is a member of the Huskers soccer team. On Monday afternoon in the Huskers' match against Newark-Seneca in Newark, he stepped in to help when Seneca senior Dominik Sticha went down with an injury.
"Lisbon is a big city, but it is very personal there, and you know people in your community and you help them anyway you can," said Gago. "I'm so glad I live there and was born there. I've been raised Catholic, and Jesus taught to love your enemies, but help them anytime you feel they are down.
"It is what I do back home, and on Monday I carried the (Newark-Seneca) player off the field. He asked for help, and I said yes. That is what I'm used to, helping everyone."
Gago said he didn't even see the play happen on the other end of the field, but he knew right away that something was wrong when he saw Sticha on the ground.
"Both kids went for the ball and it looked to me as if the Newark-Seneca player had his cleats get stuck and then they both banged legs," said Serena coach and athletics director Dean DeRango. "(Sticha) was hurt, and the kids knew it right away. (Newark athletics director and trainer) Carol Navarro went out to check on him, got him up and had him kind of draped over her trying to help him off the field. John just went over there, picked him up under the legs and carried him off."
Jessica Sticha, Dominik's mother, said she wasn't overly concerned right away, but grew more alarmed the longer her son was down on the field. She was then left in a bit of shock when Gago came to lend his help.
"It was just Dominik and a Serena player going after the ball," Sticha said. "Nothing malicious about it at all.  He went down, and at first I was like, 'He'll get up,' and then he didn't right away. Then when Carol started to come out on the field, I started to sit up a little taller in my chair. 
"They finally got him up, Carol and our coach were trying to lift him, but I think because Dominik is tall, it was a little awkward. I heard Carol say I need some help, and there was no hesitation when No. 17 (Gago) came over and just scooped him up.
"To be honest, I stopped for a minute and thought to myself, 'That's something you don't see very often.' "
Although the news of a broken bone has brought an end to her son's high school soccer career, Sticha says things could have been much worse and is grateful it wasn't.
"He did break his right fibula, but fortunately it was a clean break, so no surgery is needed," Jessica Sticha said. "(Dominik) is doing OK. It's his senior year, and soccer and baseball are his two loves of life, so his high school soccer career ends much sooner than he expected. Injuries with athletics are the chance you take, and Dominik is not the type of kid who plays any sport timidly. He gives it everything he's got."
Jessica Sticha said she called DeRango the next day, unaware that along with being the athletics director at Serena, he was also the soccer coach and witnessed the event with his own eyes.
"I felt it was important for me to make that call to Serena," she said. "When (DeRango) told me it was his foreign exchange student, I was like, 'Wow, so that kindness and that common decency and sportsmanship, not only did it cross team lines or town lines, it spanned countries in that moment.' I just thought that was really something cool."
Gago says, although it has taken him a while to get used to seeing cornfields for miles and miles, he knew (being a exchange student) was something he always wanted to do. He also added he wasn't expecting the attention his kind act has produced, as a Facebook message (with almost 600 likes, 92 shares and 35 comments) on the Serena High School page explained what had happened.
"It was something I always wanted to do," Gago said of the exchange program. "I had a friend that did it four years ago, and he told me it was the greatest experience of his life. Then my cousin did it last year, in Washington, and he loved it too. I had three countries to chose from — United States, Argentina and Holland — and I knew I wanted to come here. I'm loving it here ... I'm living my dream.
"I wasn't expecting a huge deal or the Facebook post from Mr. DeRango. My father called me and said, 'I'm proud of you, that's what we teach you.' "

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