With one of the most iconic helmet designs in the state, the Radford football team has been sporting white ram horns on its black helmets for decades.
Every single Ram that takes the field for the varsity team is a walking symbol of what was earned through sacrifice. That’s because everyone who enters the program starts off with a plain black helmet. The horns aren’t put on a given player’s helmet until a spot on the varsity team is earned.
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“There’s a lot of names that you will hear that is affiliated with our school,” head coach Fred Salanoa told KHON2’s Alan Hoshida. “All of those guys had to earn their ram horns, so to say, including myself, having played here and graduated myself as well.”
“Spreading that knowledge throughout our team, the importance of earning your stripes, earning your ram horns, it’s a privilege to be a part of it, and that’s the way we feel. I think it’s an honor and we need to uphold certain things when we’re holding that ram horn.”
Salanoa is a Radford alum and was the waterboy on the storied 1981 team. It has been 40 years since the Rams miraculously won the 1981 state title with wins over Waianae, Castle, and a 14-2 victory over Saint Louis in the Prep Bowl.
The 1981 championship was even more remarkable when considering that the team’s head coach, John Velasco, suddenly passed away a week prior to the tournament, which made for an emotion run to the title.
“Just getting the news was tough, and then believing the news was tougher,” star player Brian Norwood said. “From a phone call and then not believing it and calling around and all of us as a team, cheerleaders and everyone meeting at Aliamanu Park that night.”
Norwood, who went on to play for Hawaii before embarking on a highly successful collehe coaching career, remembers the 1981 team fondly.
“The coaching staff and the administrators and Mrs. Velasco and everyone, they really allowed us time to mourn, but also kept us focused on the vision that coach had and we had to get back on the horse and get going. A lot of emotion for sure,” Norwood, who is currently the assistant head coach, passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach at UCLA said.
“I think honoring Coach V was sort of how everything flowed after that, the unity that was sort of brought out of that. We had a tough opponent in Waianae, it was definitely a special time and so many emotions and thoughts go through my mind when I think about it.”
Radford’s field, John E. Velasco Stadium, is named after the late coach. He has not been forgotten in the Radford community 40 years later.
Before racking up 104 career wins as Navy’s head coach, Ken Niumatalolo was also a member of the 1981 team and refuses to forget the meaning of earning his helmet stripes as a Ram.
“That team, that school, the things you learn, the tradition, it was more than football,” he said. “The things I learned, I mean all of us, a lot of us are still really close, proud that Fred continues on. Just the stuff that Freddy’s teaching, the life lessons and things that he’s doing, couldn’t be more proud of him and what’s going on there at Radford.”
The journey the 1981 team went through truly resonated with Niumatalolo, who carries lessons learned from Velasco to his current program.
“To be able to win that year, to go undefeated, that year was just a great tribute to a great man,” Niumatalolo said of Velasco.
“A lot of the things I learned from him, I do with this team: Building a family, building ‘Ohana, being together, playing for each other, playing for your teammates. All that stuff I learned from coach Velasco. Loved us, loved the players. We were afraid of him but we would do anything for him.”