Mario Danelo Remembered For 'Living The Dream'

Jan. 12, 2007

LOS ANGELES -- Mario Danelo was remembered Friday as anupbeat person who enjoyed life to the fullest and left an indelibleimpression on those around him.

An estimated 2,000 mourners gathered at Mary Star of the SeaCatholic Church in suburban San Pedro to remember the SouthernCalifornia kicker.

'Mario loved life, he embraced it,' Joey Danelo said of hisyounger brother. 'If you asked Mario how he was, he would say he'sliving the dream. We'll never know God's plan, but we do know wehad a gift.

'Regardless of what you got, it came from the heart. He left animpression on our lives. He made us proud to know him. I love you,Buddy.'

Danelo's brother struggled to maintain his emotions as he spokeat the funeral Mass of nearly two hours. Among other speakers wereUSC coach Pete Carroll and Mike Walsh, who coached Danelo at SanPedro High.

'He was big-time about living life and having fun,' Carrollsaid. 'He lived it hard and fun and fast -- he enjoyed it. Heleaves us with a tremendous gift, about this life that he led.

'Mario was a fantastic kid. We loved him so much -- we're goingto miss him.'

Many in attendance listened via a loudspeaker because there werefar too many to fit into the church. The entire USC team andcoaching staff attended along with several former players andhundreds who live in San Pedro, a close-knit harbor community of70,000 about 25 miles south of Los Angeles.

'He was a hometown hero,' said Bob Franco, an assistant chiefof the Los Angeles Fire Department who grew up in San Pedro and hasknown Danelo's father, Joe, for about 20 years. 'The community wasshut down on Saturdays to watch Mario play. It's pretty much closeddown now.

'I watched him play at San Pedro High. He wore No. 32. My son,Robert, took Mario's number. He's going to keep it in Mario'shonor. He's a linebacker, just like Mario was.'

Danelo was an all-city linebacker in high school, but at5-foot-10 and less than 200 pounds, there was no way he was playingthat position at a major college. So his father, an NFL kicker from1975-84, spent countless hours working with him.

Danelo walked on at USC in 2003, and was awarded a scholarshiptwo years later. In two years as the Trojans' kicker, he made 26 of28 field goal attempts and 127 of 134 conversions. He set NCAAsingle-season records with 83 extra points and 86 attempts in the2005 season.

In what turned out to be the final game of his life, the21-year-old junior kicked two field goals in USC's 32-18 Rose Bowlvictory over Michigan on New Year's Day.

Walsh told the mourners that Danelo was the first San Pedro Highgraduate to play at USC in 30 years.

'Mario's success in life and athletics brought a smile toeveryone's face,' Walsh said. 'Everyone rooted for Mario. He wasthe ultimate team player, and his teammates loved him. I neverheard anyone say a negative word about him.

'Mario loved his family. I can't count the number of times Isaw him kicking field goals with his father in the afternoon at SanPedro High. We must follow Mario's example and live our lives withthe same bounce he had in his step, the smile he had on his face.Mario has been a blessing in all our lives.'

Danelo would tell just about anyone who asked how he was doingthat he was 'living the dream.'

We always say a lot of things. I thought he was messing with me,(saying), 'living the dream,' USC special teams graduateassistant Sam Anno recalled Friday. 'I finally believed that. Heowned that in his bones. I really didn't know it at first. Ifinally understood he felt like he really was living the dream. Heknew what he had in the present moment.'

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