CLOSING THE BOOK: 2019 Radford Rams

Radford receiver Damon Nelson led the Rams in receiving yards in 2019. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

>> 0-8 overall, 0-6 Division I

>> Fred Salanoa is 81-61 in 14 years as Rams head coach, including 0-8 in his second stint beginning in 2019.

>> QB JT Tafisi, 5-10, 145, So.; RB Kendall Saxton, 5-9, 160, Jr.; WR Dejuan James, 5-8, 140, Jr.; OL/DL Rylan Turqueza, 6-3, 230, Jr.



The Radford Rams went winless in Division I in Fred Salanoa‘s return to the helm, dropping down from the two wins Lon Passos earned in his rebuilding effort last year. But beware, the last time Salanoa suffered the indignity of a winless season, in 2007, he rebounded for the program’s first 10-win season since Bobby Stevens took over for the immortal John Velasco in 1982.

Salanoa isn’t about to complain about being thrust into Division I in his return since his excellence in 2015 was part of what thrust the Rams into that classification. But this iteration wasn’t ready for the likes of ‘Iolani, Moanalua and Leilehua late in the season. 

His offense was shut out only once this season after the program ate four doughnuts in 2016. The offense dropped nearly five points off of last year with a 10.5 points per game average, a far cry from the 42.3 Salanoa put up the last time he was calling the plays. Salanoa built a stifling defense over his 13 years at the helm, but this rebuilding effort looks way more daunting. He dropped Kelly Sur‘s points against per game average a whopping 16 points when he took over in 2003, but yielded 35.3 points per game in his return after Passos put up a 31.8 mark the previous year.

That led to a minus-24.8 differential, breaking a two-year improvement and the worst mark since Passos went winless in 2016. The program has given up more points than it scored for four straight years for the first time since Ron Velasco and Rick Ortogero did it from 1991-1994. Salanoa put an end to that nightmare in his senior season as quarterback.

Salanoa selected JT Tafisi to lead the team out of the darkness at quarterback, but he struggled with accuracy and hit on only 39 of his 103 attempts with six interceptions and a single touchdown. He played only the first five games and finished with 434 yards, the lowest for the team’s leading quarterback since Randy Wright‘s 257 in 2016 and nearly half of his yards came in the encouraging season opener at Aiea. Kalob Victorino-Avilla was Tafisi’s running mate in those first five games, but Marcus Howard took the job over and was more efficient than the other two with a 12-for-27 effort with only two interceptions.

Because of the inconsistency at quarterback, Salanoa committed to the pass only 44 percent of the time after Passos put it up 53 percent of the time with Hunter Copp the year before. A bigger part of the switch can be attributed to DJ Alpha emerging as the biggest offensive threat. Alpha led the team in rushing for the second straight year, dropping from 363 yards in 2018 to 332 this season and representing the fewest yards for the leading rusher since Kyle Corpuz in 2016. Kendall Saxton and Damon Nelson were the best support for Alpha at running back, combining for 160 yards and two touchdowns in relief. Alpha never went over 100 yards in a game and didn’t score after week two but his durability was a plus, missing only one game while Saxton got at least one carry in every contest.

Nelson was the top receiver with 25 catches for 220 yards, the fewest ground covered for the top dog since Cameron Copeland‘s 184 in 2016 and both of them failed to crack the goal line. Nelson was by far the most reliable target for the slew of quarterbacks, catching at least three passes in six of eight games and hooking up with Tafisi eight times for 76 yards in the opener. 

Benjamin Vaiaga’e and Anaiah Taimatuia-Puni were secondary targets with a combined 28 catches for 257 yards and a score, but all of the receivers suffered when Tafisi went down and Alpha took over as the main focus of the offense. The Rams had 133 passing attempts in their first four games and only 51 in the final four games. 

Tafisi was a 145-pound sophomore and will get another shot next year if he can hold off freshman Victorino-Avilla, and could be the program’s first three-year starter at the quarterback position since the excellent Cody Lui-Yuen, who passed for nearly 700 yards as a sophomore and blossomed into one of the program’s all-time greats. Whoever leads the team next year, they will have to do it without the steadying presence of Alpha, Nelson and Howard but will benefit from having Saxton as a possible breakout running back after not missing a single game this year.

Radford defensive back Cade Smith (14) attempted to snag an interception against Moanalua. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Updated: Oct. 12, 2019

JT Tafisi539-103-64341
Kalob Victorino-Avilla419-40-51831
Marcus Howard612-27-2660
Maka Sakimi26-12-1431
Aniah Taimatuia-Puni61-1-050
Damon Nelson70-1-000
DJ Alpha7703322
Kendall Saxton844831
Damon Nelson716771
Jonah Ongory624410
Ma'a Sunia-Pase12160
JT Tafisi533140
Aniah Taimatuia-Puni65120
Kalob Victorino-Avilla412100
Maka Sakimi21000
Marcus Howard613-550
Damon Nelson7252200
Benjamin Vaiaga'e6141350
Anaiah Taimatuia-Puni6141221
DJ Alpha79880
Braden Kent45811
Kendall Saxton86391
Ma'a Sunia-Pase11250
Jonah Ongory6190
Marcus Howard6170
Aaron Robertson1150
Radford’s DJ Alpha (3) made a cut in the hole looking for running room against Aiea. Photo by Andrew Lee/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Radford’s Benjamin Vaiaga’e (6) and Damon Nelson (81) celebratd after Nelson scored on a kickoff return against Aiea. Photo by Andrew Lee/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Radford receiver Braden Kent (10) broke a tackle to pick up yards against Kailua. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Radford’s Anaiah Taimatuia-Puni (11) stiff-armed Damien’s Braeden Faurot (5). Photo by Jay Metzger/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Radford’s Damon Nelson (81) celebrated after scoring a touchdown on a kickoff return against Aiea. Photo by Andrew Lee/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Radford’s JT Tafisi (2) felt the pressure from Aiea’s Chaysen Lopez (3) during the Rams’ season opener. Photo by Andrew Lee/Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Radford freshman quarterback Kalob Victorino-Avilla tossed a pass against Kailua. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to the Star-Advertiser.


  1. Isabella Burgos-Ralat October 25, 2019 4:44 pm

    Good season Rams 🐏

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