Friends, classmates and his host family gathered at Dearing First Baptist Church on Saturday to throw a "So Long for Now" party for Talles Cardoso, a foreign-exchange student from Brazil who spent his senior year at Thomson High School.
"We have really enjoyed having Talles here," said David Harbeson, Cardoso's "host Dad" while he lived in Dearing. "He has been very outgoing, very sociable, a very pleasant young man to have in our home.
"We've had a lot of fun exposing him to 'life in the South.' "
While some foreign-exchange students come for a year, study, then return home, perhaps making a lasting impression on their host family and a few friends, Cardoso has made connections to the entire Thomson community. As the starting kicker for the Thomson Bulldogs football team last year, Cardoso kicked a field goal in the final seconds of the game against Lakeside to give Thomson a 10-9 victory.
"I had only just picked up an American football a few days before the team tryouts," Cardoso said in an interview during the party. "Mr. Harbeson gave me one, and I went out in the yard and kicked it around some. Then I went to the tryouts, and they gave me a test with the ball, and said I could be their kicker."
Making the winning kick against Lakeside made a big difference in Cardoso's life while in the area.
"That kick changed everything for Talles," Harbeson said. "After that, everyone wanted to be his friend, and he wanted to be their friend, too."
"I wasn't even sure I made that kick," Cardoso said, "because as soon as I kicked it, someone hit me and knocked me down. The next thing I knew, everybody was picking me up and yelling that I'd made it."
As starting kicker, Cardoso's duties included not just field goals, but kickoffs, punts, and point-after-attempts. His talent kicking the ball also landed him a spot on the Bulldog boys' soccer team, He quickly became the team's leading scorer, with 17 goals for the season, helping lead the team to the playoffs.
His popularity with the students at THS also resulted in his being crowned homecoming king, and his enthusiasm and natural exuberance even led to his winning the coveted "Best Cheerleader" trophy during the Relay for Life Powderpuff football game held at the Brickyard, which featured a womanless cheerleader competition.
One of his soccer teammates, John Holloway, said he enjoyed being on the field with Cardoso.
"He was very focused," Holloway said. "If you did something that wasn't right, he'd start yelling at you in Portugese, and you didn't know what he was saying, but he'd always be laughing and smiling, so you couldn't be mad at him. He was a lot of fun to play with."
Holloway was also Cardoso's classmate last year, sharing a physics class with him.
"He was always joking around and making us laugh," Holloway said. "He always did his work, but he liked joking around, too."
Having fun in class was a recurrent theme when discussing Cardoso with his classmates. Recent graduate Leah Foster shared a calculus and a business class with Cardoso.
"I probably would have learned a lot more calculus if Talles hadn't been in my class," Foster said with a laugh. "But he and Nic (Wood) would talk the entire time in class, and they always had us cracking up. But what I'll always remember about Talles are the times outside of class, hanging out with him and getting to know him as a person. He's a very fun guy, very funny, and always has a smile on his face."
Wood also remembers sharing calculus class with Cardoso.
"We sat right next to each other in class, and I know we were supposed to pay attention, but he was just a lot of fun to talk to, so we usually talked the whole class," Wood said. "We kind of felt it was our duty to help keep everybody awake, and make sure they were still having fun."
Wood also played on the Thomson football team, and remembers Cardoso as a fun teammate.
"That's when we really started talking and became good friends," Wood said. "When he showed up and gave us a kicker, which we really needed, and then made that field goal against Lakeside, that really made us all aware of him, and we all wanted to be his friend after that."
Cardoso said he knows he's had a great year at Thomson.
"I've made a lot of friends here," he said. "Real friends that I'll always remember, and I hope to come back and visit before long."
Cardoso boarded a plane Monday to fly back to Brazil, but he'll be back in the area within a few months. He's attending the University of Alabama, Birmingham, starting in August. He will major in international business.
By then, though, the Harbeson family will be hosts to another foreign-exchange student, this time a high school student from Germany.
"I've already checked," Harbeson said, "and he plays soccer, too."