CHICO, Calif. -- Three Chico State baseball players played under Coach John Altobelli at Orange Coast Community College. Altobelli was one of nine victims who died in the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant last Sunday.
His players call him "Alto." Skylar Limonchi, Vince Inman, and JT Navarro all went to Orange Coast Community College before receiving offers to play at Chico State.
Once news broke of Bryant's death, the players hoped their former coach would be okay following the death of his friend.
Limonchi says, "I heard about the news about Kobe and the first thing that came to my mind was how devastated that Coach Altobelli was going to be about it."
Shortly after, the three found out Alto, his wife Keri, and their 13 year old daughter Alyssa was with Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and four others were in that helicopter.
Navarro was in disbelief. "It was one of the worst days I had in a really long time cause of how close we were."
For 27 years, Alto was in charge of one of the most successful junior college baseball programs in the nation. He won four state championships, including one just last year. With a career win-loss record of 705-478, Alto's program is a hot spot for recruiting talent.
"I walk into the office and you see all the rings, you see he's a pretty intimidating guy, and you see all the pictures, all the rings, everything he's been through, all the team's he's had and stuff like that." Navarro added, "...then you actually meet him and then you realize 'alright this is where I want to be. This is a guy that I want to be around just by his energy and how much he loved the game."
Chico State Baseball Head Coach Dave Taylor says he's known Coach Alto for 25 years. "He'd always be the first stop for me. I typically go down to so-cal in the spring and I'd stop at Orange Coast."
All three former Pirates, now turned Wildcats, praised Coach Alto's feel for the game.
"The passion that he has is just so contagious, and the love he has for the game, and his fiery competitivness, how bad he wants to win which I think ended up having his bond with Kobe because how bad they wanted to win and how much they craved that and it was just very contagious," said Navarro who played two season under Coach Alto.
Inman added, "...he never gave up hope, and we as players together, we saw that he didn't give up hope."
Neither will they and neither will this year's Orange Coast team who played their first game of the season today.
When it comes to the best way to commemorate Coach Alto, the message from these three wildcats was simple.
"Go win that thing man flush it as he would want you to and go win that thing," said Navarro.
Inman added, "...nothing would make him prouder than to win another championship back to back years again."
Limonchi echoed that sentiment saying, "Just go win that thing. Bring it home."