Legacy of 'Coach V' lives on
By Ferd Lewis
Nearly a quarter century after John Velasco died, the legacy of one of the winningest Hawai'i high school football coaches endures in some far-reaching, unimagined places.
Not just at Radford High, where the stadium is named after him, but at Penn State, the U.S. Naval Academy and San Jose State.
That's where three of his "boys" — players from Velasco's last season and the school's only Prep Bowl championship (1981) — are carving out careers as assistant football coaches on the Division I-A level. And where the lessons learned from Velasco's 163-82-6 record compiled over 23 seasons are still passed on.
With Ken Niumatalolo at Navy, Brian Norwood at Penn State and Joe Seumalo at San Jose State, Radford has become something of a cradle for up and coming college coaches.
At Radford, Seumalo said: "It is kind of funny how it all turned out. It wasn't like we used to sit around at school and say, 'OK, we're all gonna be coaches 10 or 20 years from now. But it happened. It is kind of amazing, really."
Indeed, the three — all University of Hawai'i graduates as well — have taken different routes to coaching. Norwood and Seumalo played in the Canadian Football League before getting into coaching. Niumatalolo, who went on a church mission before attending UH, got into the business later on.
Yet, it is the common threads that stand out. Beside 23-1 success together at Radford, they also shared an exposure to the man they came to know as "Coach V" — a demanding but equitable taskmaster — whose footsteps have found plenty of company.
"As a coach, he had a dynamic impact on me and a lot of people," said Norwood, who coaches safeties for the Nittany Lions. "It was a lot of things that Coach V instilled in us that may have moved a lot of us in the direction of coaching."
In addition to the three college coaches, a son, Ron, followed in Velasco's path at Radford. The current head coach, Fred Salanoa, was a water boy for the Rams.
"I watch some of these guys coach now and have talked to them and, having come up through the ranks, you can see how some of it has rubbed off on them," said Kevin Velasco, another of John's sons. "I know I'm not surprised at how they've done."
"I always say if anybody ever wanted to do a great movie, they need to do one on Radford High in the early 1980s when Coach Velasco was coaching and the time surrounding his death," Norwood said. "It was a unique time and experience for everybody. It made Radford a special place."
And, what might "Coach V" say now?
"To tell you the truth, I think he's watching them and feeling very proud of all of them," Kevin said. "And, I think they know that, too."
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 525-8044.