A huge billboard at one end of San Pedro said Mario Danelo would not be forgotten.
Streets in part of the city were blocked off to handle traffic, and a crowd of about 2,000 mourners spilled out of Mary Star of the Sea Catholic church on Friday to remember USC’s 21-year-old kicker, who died last week.
“Mario was [San] Pedro, and I think everybody recognizes that,” USC Coach Pete Carroll said after the Mass, which lasted about two hours. “We’re so saddened by this, but also ... we celebrate today a wonderful kid’s life and all the special spirit that he brought to all of us.”
Danelo’s body was found last Saturday at the bottom of a cliff not far from his family’s San Pedro home. Police have ruled out foul play and are continuing to investigate the case.
About 100 USC players and coaches arrived in buses from campus. Shaun Cody, Matt Grootegoed, Scott Ware, Tom Malone and Fred Matua were among Danelo’s former teammates who attended the service. Former Trojans Sam Cunningham and Frank Jordan also were among the crowd.
Joey Danelo, one of Mario’s two older brothers, was the first of four eulogists. He delivered a moving remembrance that recounted many of his brother’s athletic achievements.
“Mario is the only 5-year-old to foul out of a youth basketball game in 11 seconds,” Joey said, which produced cathartic laughter inside and outside the church.
San Pedro High football Coach Mike Walsh said Danelo was the first former Pirate to play at USC in 30 years. He recalled countless times he saw Danelo practicing and sharing moments with his father, Joe, a former NFL kicker.
“His roots ran deep in this town,” Walsh said. “He was proud to represent us, and this town felt the same way about him.”
Danelo was an All-City player at San Pedro who came to USC without a scholarship. He redshirted in 2003 and did not have any attempts in 2004 but earned a scholarship in the fall of 2005 and had a record-setting season for the Trojans. Danelo made 11 of 12 field-goal attempts and converted 83 of 86 extra-point attempts, setting NCAA records for attempts and PATs.
In the 2006 season, he made 15 of 16 field-goal attempts and 44 of 48 PATs.
Carroll recalled meeting Joe Danelo in 1984, when Carroll was in his first season as an NFL assistant with the Buffalo Bills and Joe was a player for the team.
Carroll called the outpouring of affection and support for Danelo’s family “extraordinary,” and said Mario’s life deserved to be celebrated.
“I want him to know how much we love him,” Carroll said. “I want him to hear the cheer of the crowd that we all play for, that we’ve all been around in this game of football that we love so much, so get yourself ready now.”
Carroll then led the mourners in a one-minute ovation of robust cheering and applause for Danelo.
“We loved him so much,” Carroll said, addressing Danelo’s parents and brothers. “We’re going to miss him, but he’s alive and well and we’re going to keep him going forever.”