And even though I wasn't specifically looking for Mario, he stopped to say hello. Like he always did. He also gave me some of the seniors' telephone numbers. A handshake and his typical Kool-aid smile later, and he was off to the buses. That was the last time I saw him in person.
Just a few weeks after that interview, Mario was awarded an athletic scholarship. I was able to congratulate him in person that August at "Salute to Troy." And in a moment I will never forget, he actually brought me to the table where his family was seated and introduced me to his father, his mother, his aunt and uncle, and the rest of the table of extended relatives. Every one of them had read the interview, and they couldn't stop thanking me for it. It was just a simple Q and A, and I remember telling them, "I just ask the questions; Mario made the interview what it is."
I still remember when people doubted him before the 2005 season, questioning his leg strength and whether he should be the starter. With each extra point and field goal that he nailed, he quieted his doubters down one by one. He missed the first field goal he ever tried in 2005, but nailed every single one of the last 11 he attempted.
Watching Mario grow from a virtual unknown who was doubted before he even took the field to one of the best and most reliable kickers ever to have suited up for USC -- affectionately dubbed "Auto-Mario" by Garry Paskwietz and "Super Mario" by Danny Page -- has truly been a pleasure, and is something I will really miss.
More than his efforts on the field, I will miss just watching him be himself -- whether he was jokingly making bunny ears behind athletes I was interviewing in the middle of the interview, or just stopping to say hello in the middle of his hectic schedule.
Suffice it to say, the USC Community is minus one tried and true Trojan today. Minus one determined former walk-on turned football star, who truly embodied the motto "Fight on," who loved his family dearly, and whose smile could light up a room.
Rest in peace, Mario. We'll miss you.
Danelo in action vs Fresno State, 2005
Mario waiting to kick in 2007 Rose Bowl