It took a while, but Sego now a Far East champ
KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa – It’s said that good things come to those who wait. But for Justin Sego, the waiting had to seem interminable.
A Panther since his freshman year, the Kadena two-way star saw a season where several teammates were suspended for code-of-conduct violations and endured ever-agonizing defeats to arch-rival Kubasaki, including the 2013 Far East Division I title game.
All that was “kind of frustrating at first,” Sego said, “but then I just realized it doesn’t matter the outcome. It matters what you get out of it in the end.”
What he got, he said, were a good work ethic and teammates with whom he bonded tightly on and off the field. “I’ve gained brothers. They’re part of my family now. This year, we just happened to come out with a championship. And that’s always a plus,” he said.
That D-I title came Nov. 8, when Kadena rallied from a six-point deficit, scoring the last 20 points of a 41-27 win at Kubasaki. Sego, who scored four second-half touchdowns, also has been named Stars and Stripes Pacific football Athlete of the Year.
It was in that 2013 defeat against Kubasaki, 34-31 in overtime, and in 28-25 and 15-8 losses to the Dragons in this year’s regular season, that the genesis of that elusive D-I title run was born, Sego said.
“We were part of something so close to getting it, it just made us want it even more,” Sego said of the 2013 loss. The two regular-season losses “kind of set our heads on straight. All the other teams we played, we pretty much blew them out. We needed that setback.”
No matter the opponent, Sego would always be the first to play for his teammates and possessed courage in large measure, coach Sergio Mendoza said.
“The kid has an enormous heart and having that enormous heart gives him a lot of courage,” Mendoza said. “He has this innate ability to sacrifice for others (which) I’ve only seen a few times in my life. It’s about who you’re standing next to. Those are the lessons that will translated over into his personal life. He really cares about others.”
Mendoza cited the second game with Kubasaki, when Sego fumbled five times. “He took it to heart, he felt he let the team down,” he said. “The biggest thing Kadena football is going to miss from him (is) the desire to not just to please but sacrifice for others.”
A devout Mormon and an Eagle Scout, Sego also stars for the Panthers in baseball and has been part of three Far East D-I runner-up teams.
Such setbacks, be they on the gridiron or diamond, “benefit us, in a way. It makes us realize we need to work harder and it’s not going to be handed to us,” Sego said.
But at last, Sego can call himself a Far East champion in one sport. He also finished second in rushing in the Pacific, 1,519 yards and 16 touchdowns on 162 carries. He will likely serve a 2-year church mission after graduation, said his father, Marine Master Sgt. Russ Sego.
“I can’t believe it’s over, but I’m glad it ended this way,” Sego said.