His favorite post-game ritual was pealing apart a Fruit by the Foot in the Florida humidity.
Joseph Ghitius, a senior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the goalkeeper for the men’s soccer team, started playing soccer when he was three years old. By the time he was four, he was enrolled in a recreation league and has played ever since.
Ghitis was born in Bogota, Colombia. His family moved to Miami, Florida when he was two because they felt Colombia was dangerous. They wanted to raise their family in a safe environment. One of his cousins lived in Miami, and told his parents he had a job lined up for them.
Ghitis visits his family in Colombia almost every year for two or three weeks at a time. He said his father was one of the best players in Colombia and inspired him to play.
His father wanted to be a professional soccer player for Colombia and trained with pro teams, but he never signed with a team. Ghitis’ grandfather discouraged his father from playing professionally because he believed he wouldn’t make enough money to sustain himself and his family.
“I want to pass the point where he was.” Ghitis said. “I want to get there not only for me, but so he can see that it’s possible.”
After graduating from high school in Miami, Ghitis needed to figure out where he wanted to go for college.
“UNO was one of the only places that gave me a shot,” Ghitis said.
His coach in Miami knew Jason Mims, UNO’s head soccer coach. Ghitis committed for one year to see if he would fit into the program. Now he’s finishing his fourth year playing for the Mavericks.
Ghitis is majoring in finance and minoring in real estate. He balances academics and soccer by using any free time to do homework. He studies on the bus and makes study groups with his friends. He wants to play soccer after he graduates and focus on his business career when his soccer career ends.
Coach Mims said Ghitis has gone through a transformation since his freshmen year.
“He’s changed his body. He is much more fit than he was when he came in as a freshmen,” Mims said. “A lot of high school seniors think they are at a high fitness level, but coming to the next level can be a shock. He’s much stronger, quicker and athletic.”
The senior has won many awards throughout his career, including Summit League Academic All-League in 2015, Summit League Defensive Player of the Week in October 2014 and September 2016,All-Summit League Newcomer Team in 2014, Summit League Distinguished Scholar in 2014 and Summit League Academic Honor Roll in 2014 and 2015. He credits most of his success to the support from his teammates.
“I don’t like to take the credit,” Ghitis said. “My team does 90 percent of the work.”
In the 2016 season, the soccer team won 10 games, lost five and tied four. Ghitis said he likes being goalkeeper because the pressure challenges him. He is a leader on the team because he directs his teammates and is last in line of defense. Whether or not he makes a save has a huge impact on the game.
The senior goalkeeper is not the only player on the team who was born internationally. The team has eight other players who were born across the world. He said learning about other cultures has made him appreciate his culture to be open-minded to others, and his head coach agrees.
“Soccer is the world’s game. We’d be naïve not to recruit international kids,” Mims said. “They’re family. They live together. They eat together. They study together. They play together. It doesn’t matter what they think is right or wrong, red or blue. Soccer teaches them about diversity and inclusion.”