Navy football Coach Ken Niumatalolo's son also rises

By Alan Siegel
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 12:01 AM

Navy football Coach Ken Niumatalolo is proud that his office in Annapolis is dotted with family photos. "My most important role is being a husband and a father," he said from his desk last month. "That's way more important than being a coach."

Sometimes, his paternal instincts and his professional philosophy collide, particularly when it comes to his 17-year-old son Va'a, a senior linebacker at Broadneck High in Annapolis.

"It's kind of funny," said Ken, whose Midshipmen are bowl-eligible for the third time in his three-season tenure, "because I'll see him hit somebody, then I'll see him help him up, and part of me's like, 'Don't help him up. This is football.' But that's just who he is."

Va'a smiled at that.

"Sometimes you just feel that respect for the other player," said Va'a, who will help lead Broadneck (8-2) into a first-round game at Old Mill (9-1) in the Maryland 4A East playoffs on Friday at 7 p.m. "But on the next play, you still try and crush him."

Spend a few minutes with Ken and Va'a and it becomes clear: Father and son are a lot alike. Both are thoughtful and earnest - neither curses, though "once in a while maybe the 'D' word," Va'a said - yet aggressive if the situation calls for it. Both are deeply committed to their Mormon faith and Polynesian heritage. And both have displayed an uncommon aptitude for football.

Take, for example, the play Va'a made against Annapolis on Oct. 8. Facing a fourth and two, the Panthers called a toss to Keith Collins. The speedy running back appeared headed for a first down when Broadneck linebacker Nick Ochoa noticed Va'a closing fast. "He just shot out," Ochoa said, and stopped Collins a yard short of the first down.

Said Broadneck defensive coordinator Rob Harris: "It was pretty sweet."

Family matters

Even in jeans and a baggy Navy sweatshirt, Va'a is physically imposing. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound teenager, who wears size 12 Nikes and squats 405 pounds, hasn't totally filled out. Harris likes to say that "some kids have their man look to them." Va'a isn't there yet, Harris said.

"I've pretty much put on 20 pounds each year, probably from my Polynesian genes," said Va'a, who made the varsity squad as a 175-pound freshman. His father, a three-year letterman at quarterback for Hawaii in the late 1980s, used to be able to out-lift Va'a. "He's a big dude, so when we used to do power cleans, he just used his upper body to lift what I was lifting, and I was like, 'Oh my gosh.' But then he stopped because he was going to throw out his back."

"In his legs and stuff, he's way stronger than me," said Ken, who's also 6-2. "It's hard for me to admit that."

Ken and Va'a are far from the only athletic members of the Niumatalolo family. Va'a's mother Barbara, who's 5-10, is a former swimmer. Ali'i, 12, is in seventh grade. He plays football and has hands the size of Va'a's. "He's going to be a monster," Va'a said. "He's 170, 180 with size 12 shoes." And Alexcia, 21, is a starting defender on Maryland's women's lacrosse team.

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