MIRAMAR, Fla. - Former UCLA men's water polo player Marco "Manga" Santos (full name: Marco Paulo Dos Santos) passed away on June 24, 2014 in his home in Miramar after a three-year battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and was surrounded by his family.
Santos was 28 years-old at the time of his death, just three weeks shy of his 29th birthday.
"Our family is saddened by the loss of one of the most beloved young men to grace the deck at UCLA during his time," said former UCLA Head Coach and current USA Women's Senior National Team Head Coach Adam Krikorian. "In the athletic arena, he will forever be remembered for his tireless work ethic and unmatched competitive spirit. But more importantly, Manga was a loyal and caring teammate and friend, who continually put the well-being of others ahead of his own and whose smile would light up a room. The courage he displayed, especially in the last years of his life, was quite simply mind-blowing, and is a great example for us all.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Manga and his family. We will miss him dearly, but his legacy will live on through the many he inspired."
He played in all 28 matches, while making 27 starts at center for the Bruins in his senior season (2007), scoring 32 goals while earning second-team ACWPC All-America accolades and second-team All-MPSF honors. Among the nation's top centers, he led UCLA in earned exclusions in each of his last two seasons.
He earned honorable mention ACWPC All-America honors in 2006 after playing in all 23 matches while making 22 starts and scoring 27 goals (ranked third on the team). He also garnered second-team All-MPSF plaudits his junior season.
Santos was a member of UCLA's last national championship team in 2004, playing in 23 games as a true freshman.
He played for Paul Becskehazy (a four-year letterwinner at UCLA from 1968-71 and a two-time NCAA Champion in 1969 and 1971) at Miami Beach Senior High School for four years (2000-03). Santos was a four-time All-America, All-State and All-City selection in water polo. He captured state MVP honors as a senior and city MVP accolades the three previous seasons. He was a member of two state championship water polo teams and also competed for the Brazilian Junior National Team.
"He was a tremendous young man and had a positive effect on everyone he met," said UCLA Head Men's Water Polo Coach Adam Wright. "He fought not only the battles in the water with everything he had, but also the battle of his health, which is a testament to his courage and the kind of person he was. He was the ultimate team player. He came to our program out of Florida with little fanfare, but by the time he ended his career at UCLA, he was one of the top players in the country."
After graduation from UCLA, Santos traveled to Europe where he played professionally. He was playing professional water polo in Italy when his career was cut short in 2011 after he was diagnosed with ALS, just as he was approaching his prime.
Competitors and teammates alike note his humble attitude and tireless work ethic. Coaches and teammates cannot say enough about the type of man he was. It was for this reason that Kirkorian went to Miami in May of 2013 to run some free clinics for kids that would have otherwise never been able to have that type of experience. Bruin Olympic gold medalist Courtney Mathewson also made the trip to Miami, as did his Bruin teammates, Russell Simpkins, Chris Allen, Carter Brutschy, Patrick Morrison and Krsto Sbutega. They all willingly went in order to spend some time with Santos and to help him give back to the community where he grew up and learned to play the sport he loved so much.
"It is hard to put in words what Manga was all about and why so many people loved him," said UCLA teammate Sbutega. "The first words that come to my mind are caring, gentle, serene and sincere. I was blessed to be able to spend a lot of time with him, in his healthy days at UCLA and in his sick days in Miami and call him my best friend, my brother.
"Besides the All-American honors, the victories and defeats, his fierceness and strength, it is the way he affected people around him that defined him. It’s not what he did but how he made you feel that made him unique. He was able to brighten your day with a smile and make you feel safe just with his presence. You knew he was, and that he would always be there when you needed him, in the water or out. You never felt alone, or left out when he was around. Even as the disease was progressing, and his physical presence wasn’t as imposing as it used to be, he was still able to make you feel comfortable and secure around him. I might be young, but I know that people like that come around once in a lifetime. The support that he received from his wonderful family and his friends during the toughest times is a testament to his life and the love he inspired. I know he is in a better place, but we are going to miss him a lot."
He is survived by his parents, Marco Antonio Boa Morte Dos Santos and Mariamelia Dos Santos; four siblings and many friends.
Visitation will be held at Fred Hunter's University Drive Home in Davie, Fla., on June 27, 2014 from 4:00-8:00 p.m. (ET). The service will be held at the same location on June 27 at 6:00 p.m. (ET).
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