Q&A with Mario Danelo

Trojan sophomore kicker Mario Danelo, a walk-on from San Pedro HS, heads into fall camp as the leading candidate to take over placekicking duties for Ryan Killeen. In this interview Danelo talks about how he took advantage of his opportunity in spring ball and what he expects of himself this season.

We're here with USC placekicker Mario Danelo. Mario, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

My pleasure.

What made you choose to walk on at USC? Did you have any scholarship offers from any other schools?

I chose USC because it is close to home. I couldn't see myself going anywhere too far just because I wanted to stay close to my family. The only other places I could've gone to were very small schools. They wanted me to play other positions. The Division I schools thought that I would play best at the kicker position.

Speaking of family, we understand your father was also a placekicker in the NFL for ten years [Joe Danelo played for the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills]. How has he influenced your kicking game?

My dad's given me so much advice and information. But he didn't push me into kicking. I got into it myself. He'd help me practice. When he came back from work, I would be there waiting for him with the footballs ready to practice kicking.

Did you always know you wanted to be a placekicker? Did you play any other positions in high school?

I didn't really start kicking until junior year in high school. Once I started kicking, I started getting more into it. I also played fullback and linebacker in high school, and I enjoyed playing those positions as well.

Was there a defining moment you can point to when you realized you were a pretty good placekicker?

I played soccer my whole life, so kicking came to me naturally. I realized I was pretty good at kicking when I made the transition from kicking from a tee to kicking from the ground. The transition was easy. I knew I could kick if I just stuck with it.

Did you play any other sports in high school?

I grew up playing all sports, such as baseball, basketball, but mostly in high school I played football and soccer.

You were the only placekicker this past spring practice. Tell us about how you were able to take advantage of this opportunity.

Spring ball was my chance. With no other kickers, I could show the coaches what I could do. It was a great opportunity, and I think I did well. With those reps, I was able to show I can kick well with consistency.

Ryan Killeen has described you as one of the most competitive people he knows. Tell us about this.

I grew up with two older brothers, and learned to be competitive. I grew up being pushed around as the little kid, so I had to compete with them all of the time, but it's all in good fun. They both also played soccer and kicked in high school. Yeah, kicking runs in the family. (Laughs.)

What has it meant to you to play with Ryan Killeen?

It's meant a lot to me. I learned a lot from Ryan. I saw the highs and lows, got to go through a lot of experiences with him that he went through. I watched how he approached the games and dealt with the pressure. I feel I learned how to be a better kicker from those experiences, from observation.

Do you look up to any other player, or aspire to be like any particular placekicker?

No, not really. I just want to be the best kicker I can be. The best athlete I can be. But growing up, my favorite athlete was Barry Sanders. I like the way he ran the ball.

What are your goals for the upcoming season?

I want to do the best I can and kick the best I can. Make the best decisions. And take advantage of any opportunity. I want to start, and help my team win games.

What would you say are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?

My mindset is good. I don't let a lot of outside things get to me during practice. My weakness would probably be my leg strength. I'm working on improving that.

Tell us about your mindset as you approach each kick you take.

When it comes to kicking, when the ball snaps, you go into autopilot. You're not really thinking. It's all reaction once the ball is snapped. What I do is I just pick a spot in the crowd I try to aim the ball towards, and I look at the holder and let him know I'm ready.

What kind of workout/practice regimen do you have as a placekicker?

I run and lift with the team. But I go a little lighter with the lifting. Muscles aren't as important as speed is in kicking. It's more about speed. We probably get 5-6 reps with the team. We practice snaps a lot so we're more in synch.

What do you know about an offensive line commit named Zack Heberer?

Me and Zack went to the same high school (San Pedro). I've seen him recently and I met his family. He seems like he'll be a good fit. He's a big kid!

What are your interests outside of football and school?

Lately I've been getting into golf. I play with Tom Malone and Ryan Killeen. Out of all of us three, I think I'm the best at it right now, but not by much. (Laughs.) I also enjoy playing the Tiger Woods video game, even though I don't play video games much. But I do know that Drew Radovich is the king of Halo 2! I'm also taking a guitar class this semester.

What kind of music do you listen to?

I listen to everything, but mainly country music. I like Tim McGraw. I also like classic rock.

Do you sing in the shower?

Actually I do. I sing country songs.

Who are your closest friends on the team?

Tom Malone and Will Collins. We get along together because we're always together during practice.

Will we Three-Peat?

(Smiles.) I can't make any predictions. We just have to take it one game at a time.

Thoughts you'd like to leave USC fans with as we head into the season?

Get ready for an exciting season. I'm looking forward to just having fun, and can't wait for the season to start. Fight on.

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