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21-Year-Old Student Athlete Sacrifices Self To Save Girlfriend

IN LIFE, University of Alabama student John Servati was the classic all-American guy -- tall, good-looking, an elite athlete and "a true southern gentleman".

In death, the 21-year-old -- who was killed when a violent twister caused a concrete wall to collapse on him -- is being hailed as a hero who sacrificed his life to save his girlfriend.

Servati, a member of the university's men's swimming and diving team, was one of thousands bunkered down as tornadoes, storms and hail lashed the southern states of the US, killing at least 35.

As the tornado raged, he and his girlfriend sought shelter in a house near the university's Tuscaloosa campus, The Clarion-Ledger reported.

Tragedy struck when the walls of the house collapsed under the force of the twister.

"John Servati died a hero," his friend Anna Gwarjanki wrote on Twitter. (He) held up a concrete wall long enough for his girlfriend to get out from under it before it collapsed again on him," she said.

Servati, a high-achieving business student, was from Tupelo, Mississippi, a town that was ravaged by the tornadoes that continue to wreak havoc.

It was fitting, say his friends, that he sacrificed himself to save another life.

Tupelo swimming coach Lucas Smith said: "That was his thing. If he could help somebody, it's almost like that's what he was called for.

"It's evident in the way he lost his life, helping others."

The university's director of athletics, Bill Battle, described him as a remarkable young man whose life was cut far too short.

The swimming team's captain Phillip Deaton said the popular student "definitely had a genuine heart".