The Trojan football team held a team meeting on Monday afternoon as players returned from their winter break. After the meeting special teams coach Sam Anno and a few of Mario Danelo's closest friends on the team came out to talk to the media about their fallen teammate.
Coach Pete Carroll will not return from vacation until Tuesday, but he sent over a statement regarding Mario.
"We'll miss Mario terribly," Carroll said. "He was a wonderful kid and well liked by everyone. We'll be there to help his family in every way we can and we'll always be there for them.
"Mario was a great young man and he'll always be remembered by everyone that way."
Coach Anno started off addressing the media with a somber statement. He talked about a letter sent over by Joe and Emily Danelo that was read to the team. More than once he mentioned the support between the Danelo family and the Trojan family. It was apparent that losing Mario felt like losing a son or a brother to the coach.
Everyone felt lucky just to have Mario on the team. He was a blue collar guy and a hard worker. He represented the city of San Pedro well with guts and a great work ethic. Danelo simply embodied the hard working community he grew up in.
The mood was filled with sorrow, but Coach Anno realized that it was important for the team to be able to get through this tragedy, especially with classes beginning today.
Offensive guard Drew Radovich, long snapper Will Collins, linebacker Dallas Sartz, quarterback and holder Michael McDonald and offensive lineman Matt Spanos all said a few heartfelt words to the media.
Some of the guys fought back tears as they shared something they remembered about Mario.
Radovich lived with Danelo for two and a half years and said they were a couple of great years in his life. He couldn't believe the news when he heard it and he simply misses his friend.
A visibly shaken Collins kept his statement simple, "Few people in the world have touched me and made as big an impact on me as Mario."
Sartz told the media what anyone that attends practice already knew, "Mario always had a smile on his face."
Spanos mentioned that he and Mario came into the program in the same year, growing up together in the Trojan family.
And according to McDonald, Danelo was a wonderful person and a selfless teammate.
Few people enjoyed their life like Mario did. No other schools were interested in him coming out of high school so he walked on to his dream school, USC.
From there he worked hard, sometimes kicking field goals between 3 AM and 5 AM when his father Joe got off of work. By last season Danelo earned a scholarship and was the first string place kicker at the top program in the country. He even set an NCAA record for PATs (83) and PAT attempts (86) in 2005.
Coach Anno knew Mario appreciated what he had worked so hard to achieve. Every time the coach ran into his kicker and asked about his day, Danelo would always answer the same way.
"Living a dream coach, living a dream."
The last time most of his teammates saw Danelo alive was the night after the Rose Bowl.
Players met after the game to celebrate with their families and then headed back to their hotels to shower and change. Collins did exactly that and recalled Danelo walking into his hotel room. They talked for 45 minutes before Danelo left to go home.
"The last time I talked to him was in the hotel," Collins said. "I gave him a hug in the hallway when I was walking out."
It was the last time Collins saw his friend alive.
When the news got to Collins, he had a hard time controlling his emotions.
"I started shaking and I fell down in the first chair I could find," he said.
He called the Danelo household soon after he got the news.
"I told Joe how much he means to me, how much Mario means to me."
Everyone had questions about what really happened that night, but Collins and his teammates were not about to speculate. In fact, that seemed to be the last thing on any of their minds.
This wasn't about getting to the bottom of what happened that fateful night, it was about mourning the loss of a teammate, a classmate and a friend.
Funeral services for Mario will take place on January 12, 2007 at 10:30 AM. The service will be held at Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in San Pedro, 870 West 8th Street.
A reception will follow at the Doubletree Hotel in San Pedro, 2800 Via Cabrillo Marina.