21st IN A SERIES
This summer, head coaches from all 28 Oahu high school varsity football teams are being asked to recount their football playing days.
One coach interviewed for this multi-part series pointed out what he thinks may be the value of this endeavor:
“A lot of times, you only hear about coaches when they’re getting released or are having a special season. It’s super hard to have a special season, so this should shed more light on them as people and their journey of when they were student-athletes. It’s going to bring more respect to the people who are doing this job. They didn’t all of a sudden become a high school coach because they coached Pop Warner. These guys have gone through it all, they’ve run the gamut of experiences.”
Some made it to the NFL. Others went to big colleges. Still others went the small-college route. They started as young’uns and got the bug, falling in love with football and taking pride in passing on their knowledge.
Along with the coaches’ look-back at their football-playing pasts, they also give their outlook on where their programs are at heading into the 2019 season.
COACH FRED SALANOA AND THE 2019 RADFORD RAMS
If a film director wanted to make a documentary about Radford’s football coach, he or she would likely choose to start the movie with a football in the crib next to baby Fred Salanoa.
“Football has kind of always been in my life since I was born,” Salanoa said. “My dad played at BYU and my brothers all played football. It goes as far back as I can remember.
“I don’t know anything other than football,” he added, kiddingly.
The lineup goes like this:
First there was the father, Fa’atautau Salanoa, who played high school ball at Roosevelt and then went on to coach at Waipahu and mainly at Radford after that.
And then there’s all of the brothers — Alan Salanoa (BYU offensive lineman), Willie Salanoa (Ricks Jr. College), Vernon Salanoa (University of Hawaii briefly as a running back), Thor Salanoa, Will Lobendahn (Idaho State offensive lineman), and Joe Lobendahn (University of Washington linebacker).
One of those brothers, Thor, still has the ring from BYU’s 1984 national championship team. He was a linebacker.
Thor also played on the 1981 Radford team that beat Saint Louis 14-2 in the Oahu Prep Bowl. That was the year legendary coach John Velasco died one day before a playoff game. Fred Salanoa, who was 3 years old, was a water boy on that squad soaking it all in. The quarterback was Ken Niumatalolo.
Salanoa first suited up for the Aiea Rainbows in Pop Warner, playing running back and quarterback on offense and safety on defense.
After that, he made the Radford varsity as a freshman QB, playing behind senior Bernard Mokuahi.
The next three years, Salanoa was the starting quarterback.
“My senior year (1995), we went undefeated, but we had an ineligible player and forfeited all of our games,” he said. “I learned a lot from it. Just the fact that things can be taken away from you, but your hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. You continue to learn from what happened and how to bounce back from adversity. As a high school student, that’s the last thing you’re thinking about. You don’t look at it as turning it into a life lesson. Now, as an adult and as a mentor, coach, parent, those are the type of memories I’m sharing with people I come into contact with.”
After gray-shirting at Snow College in Utah, Salanoa started his second year there and became the No. 1 passer in the National Junior College Athletic Association.
His performance at Snow drew long looks from University of Hawaii coaches Fred von Appen and, later, June Jones. He actually signed to play for von Appen, but it didn’t work out.
He took five recruiting trips and picked Eastern Washington over Tennessee-Chattanooga, Idaho State, New Mexico and BYU.
“There was an opportunity for me to play right away and the situation was ideal,” he said. “I built a relationship with the coaching staff and they wanted my abilities and leadership for their team. I liked the environment, too. It was not a big city. It was in the state of Washington and close to family and close to Hawaii.”
Salanoa and running back Jesse Chatman became the first RB/QB tandem to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 2,000 in a season.
“Jesse was a bowling ball, definitely fast,” Salanoa said. “He played for the San Diego Chargers, an unbelievable running back who went to the same high school in Washington as Corey Dillon (former Cincinnati Bengals star).
“We did not know of that recognition until the highlight video of the team was made and we heard the commentators say that. That’s pretty exciting.”
Another memorable moment for Salanoa came when he was chosen by his team to be the representative at the Big Sky Conference media day in Salt Lake City.
He also got to work for the Seattle Seahawks.
“They used our facility and allowed our team to pick three players to work with them,” he said. “I was fortunate to be one of them. We flew to Indianapolis on their private plane when they played the Colts. We got to experience the police escort to the hotel and stayed at the team hotel — the whole gamut of things as a Seattle Seahawks employee. I was the ballboy for the quarterbacks. Matt Hasselbeck was the starter and Brock Huard was the backup. Shaun Alexander was a running back. Mike Holmgren was the head coach.”
Back in his Radford playing days, Salanoa recalls being close with teammates Thadd Beltran, a center, Simmons Manuma, a two-way lineman, and Shaun Masaniai, Billy Faoa and Mike Tavale.
Aaron Best, Salanoa’s center in college, is now the head coach at Eastern Washington. Lamont Brightful, who went on to become a wide receiver and kick returner for the Baltimore Ravens, was also a college teammate, as was Mike Roos, an offensive lineman who went on to become an All-Pro for the Tennessee Titans.
Three teammates from Salanoa’s Snow College days made it to the NFL — defensive linemen Mario Fatafehi, who played high school ball at Farrington, and Junior Ioane, and wide receiver Kevin Curtis.
“An opponent who sticks out the most to me is Jared Allen (eventual Minnesota Vikings All-Pro defensive end) at Idaho State. He was big-time, but I didn’t know it at the time. We talked about him in film session. He buried me a couple of times. He probably gave me a concussion.”
After coming back from college, Salanoa went to Radford to work out and stay in shape. Kelly Sur, the Rams football coach at the time who was also Salanoa’s head coach in the 1990s, asked him to help out.
“I ended up coming around and volunteering because my hours didn’t allow me to take a position,” he said. “When Kelly retired from coaching (after the 2002 season), people asked me to put in for the job and now I still sit here 17 years or whatever later.”
After leading the Rams to the Division II state title in 2015, Salanoa took a break from being a head coach. He assisted at Punahou in 2016 and was hired by Best to be an assistant at Eastern Washington in 2017. Salanoa, however, was back at Punahou to finish the 2017 season.
“It was just not the right thing for me,” he said about the college coaching stint.
Salanoa was a Kamehameha assistant in 2018 before returning to Radford as the head coach in the offseason.
“That was a special team,” he said about the 2015 Rams. “We went undefeated and it’s very hard to do that, no matter what level. Now, it’s trying to build a team again to where it’s clicking. This was the place where people wanted to be and wanted to come to.
“We’re trying to build the culture again, build upon the foundation and tradition that has been really rich here. Get Radford back to what it is known for and to what we stand for. It’s about being disciplined, having mental toughness and a hard work ethic. It’s about, whether it’s a win or a loss, putting a good product on the field, representing our school and the people that are involved in our program that support us.”
Since he’s been back, Salanoa has seen strides.
“We’ve gotten a lot better from Day 1 with the commitment level, the work they’re putting forth in the weight room, in film study and on the field. But we’ve got a lot of work to do, and a lot of teaching to do and mentoring to do — getting our young men to realize there’s more to it than just football. There’s a lot of work do to do in getting them to the caliber we want them to play at.”
2019 RADFORD RAMS AT A GLANCE
>> 2018 record and finish: 2-8 (2-5 OIA Division I)
>> Head coach Fred Salanoa’s staff:
— Billy Faoa (quarterbacks)
— Thor Salanoa II (wide receivers)
— Vernon Salanoa (running backs)
— Semaia Salanoa (offensive line)
— Thor Salanoa (defensive line)
— Cy Salanoa (linebackers)
— Mingo Saelua (defensive backs)
>> Approximate varsity and JV numbers: 50 varsity, 40 JV
>> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections returning: None
>> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections lost to graduation: None
>> Players with Division I FBS college offers: None
>> Among 2019 key returnees: Menise Pase, Sr., DL/LB, 5-10, 250; DJ Alpha, Sr., LB/RB, 6-0, 220; Keenan Turqueza, Sr., LB, 6-0, 220; Benjamin Baiaga’e, Sr., WR, 6-0, 170; Damon Nelson, Sr., WR, 6-1, 170.
>> All-time state championships: 1 (2015, D-II)
>> All-time Prep Bowl (1973-1998) championships: 1 (1981, D-I)
>> All-time OIA championships: 8 (5 in D-I — 1960, 1961, 1968, 1976, 1981; 3 in D-II — 2005, 2012, 2015)
>> 2019 conference: OIA Division I
COMING NEXT IN “GLORY DAYS”:
Part 22: Coach Kui Kahooilihala and the 2019 Roosevelt Rough Riders
Previously in the series:
>> Coach Darren Johnson and the 2019 Campbell Sabers
>> Coach John Hao and the 2019 Castle Knights
>> Coach Eddie Klaneski and the 2019 Damien Monarchs
>> Coach David Tautofi and the 2019 Kaimuki Bulldogs
>> Coach Kale Ane and the 2019 Punahou Buffanblu
>> Coach Mike Fanoga and the 2019 Waianae Seariders
>> Coach Bryson Carvalho and the 2019 Waipahu Marauders
>> Coach Mark Kurisu and the 2019 Leilehua Mules
>> Coach Pat Silva and the 2019 McKinley Tigers
>> Coach Kili Watson and the 2019 Nanakuli Golden Hawks
>> Coach Tim Seaman and the 2019 Kaiser Cougars
>> Coach Daniel Sanchez and the 2019 Farrington Governors
>> Coach Scott Melemai and the 2019 Kalani Falcons
>> Coach Lincoln Barit and the 2019 Waialua Bulldogs
>> Coach Savaii Eselu and the 2019 Moanalua Na Menehune
>> Coach Wendell Say and the 2019 Aiea Na Alii
>> Coach Sterling Carvalho and the 2019 Kahuku Red Raiders
>> Coach Abu Maafala and the 2019 Kamehameha Warriors
>> Coach Wendell Look and the 2019 ‘Iolani Raiders
>> Coach Robin Kami and the 2019 Pearl City Chargers