One day after paying respects to their teammate Will McKamey at a funeral service in Tennessee, the Navy football team will return to the practice field Tuesday.
“Nothing prepares you for this,” Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo said Tuesday morning. “From a football standpoint, there’s no blueprint. There’s no convention talk that tells you how to deal with something like this. He was such a wonderful young man and his parents are just wonderful people. It’s really hit our team hard.”
Niumatalolo made his first public remarks since the freshman tailback died last week at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, in a radio interview with WNML-AM in Knoxville.
The coach said he still doesn’t know what caused McKamey, 19, who had a history of head injuries, to collapse on the practice field on March 22. The player’s mother previously said McKamey did not appear to fall as a result of contact. Niumatalolo was asked whether the school needs to play a role in understanding what happened.
“I think we all do,” he said. “You always go back and look. I know, it was a very thorough process on both sides. I know the McKameys already addressed that. Obviously, that was their son, so they’re going to make sure they had every specialist take a look at it, and so are people here at the Naval Academy. It was a pretty stringent process. I don’t know, but you always go back and look. I know it was a very thorough – both sides knew the situation. So anything could happen.
“I guess the thing is nobody still knows what happened,” he continued. “The main thing, unfortunately, he’s not here. We’re trying to just be there for the family.”
Niumatalolo, along with several Navy players, attended funeral services for McKamey Monday in Knoxville. The coach said the school sent two buses filled with classmates and teammates.
“I know, just talking to our guys, they were grateful for an opportunity just in a small way to help pay respect to losing one of our brothers,” the coach said in the WNML-AM interview.
While McKamey sat in coma last week, Niumatalolo and many teammates waited anxiously at the Baltimore hospital. The coach cancelled practices and Tuesday afternoon marks the first time they’ve held a formal practice since McKamey collapsed and as air-lifted to Baltimore.
“Last week was about being with each other,” the coach said. “Our thing now, as we look forward, Will was a go-getter, he wanted to do things. He was a tough kid. He didn’t back down from anybody. Our message to our team is we got to live life and we got to love life. That’s how Will would want it. So we’ll mourn and we’ll continue to mourn. But we now press forward and try to be the best people we can be, just like Will was.”
McKamey didn’t appear in any games as a freshman but he was a key member of the Navy scout team, lining up anywhere coaches asked. Niumatalolo said that whenever the coach exited the locker room, McKamey’s was one of the last lockers he passed.
“The thing I always think about, whether I thought the practice went good or bad, for me to walk past and see Will McKamey’s locker just always made me feel good,” Niumatalolo said. “I’d always say, ‘Will how you doing?’ He’d always smile. ‘Coach, doing great.’ For me, he was always a reminder that as bad that practice was, it ain’t that bad. That’s kind of Will. He just had an infectious personality.
“If you’re smiling as a freshman here at the Naval Academy, you’re a special person. Just with everything you have to deal with from military side, from the academic side, playing Division I football — I mean, the kid always had a smile on his face.”
Monday’s funeral services was also attended by Army Coach Jeff Monken, along with two of his players.
“Just shows you, this is a different rivalry,” Niumatalolo said. “That shows you how special the bond is to Army-Navy. …We know there are a ton of rivalries out there, but that shows you how this one is different.”