Former USC kicker Danelo remembered for love of life

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

An estimated 2,000 mourners gathered at Mary Star of the Sea
Catholic Church in suburban San Pedro to remember the Southern
California kicker, whose body was found last weekend about 120 feet
down a rocky cliff not far from his family's home.

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

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

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

"He was big-time about living life and having fun," Carroll
said. "He lived it hard and fun and fast -- he enjoyed it. He
leaves us with a tremendous gift, about this life that he led.

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

Many in attendance listened via a loudspeaker because there were
far too many to fit into the church. The entire USC team and
coaching staff attended along with several former players and
hundreds who live in San Pedro, a close-knit harbor community of
70,000 about 25 miles south of Los Angeles.

"He was a hometown hero," said Bob Franco, an assistant chief
of the Los Angeles Fire Department who grew up in San Pedro and has
known Danelo's father, Joe, for about 20 years. "The community was
shut down on Saturdays to watch Mario play. It's pretty much closed
down 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's
honor. He's a linebacker, just like Mario was."

"He was a hometown hero. The community was
shut down on Saturdays to watch Mario play. It's pretty much closed
down now."
Bob Franco, friend of the Danelo family

Danelo was an all-city linebacker in high school, but at
5-foot-10 and less than 200 pounds, there was no way he was playing
that position at a major college. So his father, an NFL kicker from
1975-84, spent countless hours working with him.

Danelo walked on at USC in 2003, and was awarded a scholarship
two years later. In two years as the Trojans' kicker, he made 26 of
28 field goal attempts and 127 of 134 conversions. He set NCAA
single-season records with 83 extra points and 86 attempts in the
2005 season.

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

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

"Mario's success in life and athletics brought a smile to
everyone's face," Walsh said. "Everyone rooted for Mario. He was
the ultimate team player, and his teammates loved him. I never
heard anyone say a negative word about him.

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

An autopsy was performed on Danelo last Monday, and the
coroner's office said it could be six to eight weeks before the
cause of death is determined. Foul play has been ruled out. The
medical examiner is awaiting toxicology results that would detect
the presence of any alcohol or drugs in Danelo's system.

Those who knew him best seem convinced it was a tragic accident,
not suicide.

Danelo would tell just about anyone who asked how he was doing
that 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 graduate
assistant Sam Anno recalled Friday. "I finally
believed that. He owned that in his bones. I really didn't know it
at first. I finally understood he felt like he really was living
the dream. He knew what he had in the present moment."