By BILL WAGNERCAPITAL GAZETTE |AUG 05, 2020 AT 11:01 AM
Va’a Niumatalolo’s continuing coaching education has brought him home — to the city where he was raised and with the program on which he was weaned.
The oldest son of head coach Ken Niumatalolo is now employed by the Navy football program.Ads by Teads
In February, Va’a Niumatalolo was hired as assistant to the director of football operations. The 27-year-old Annapolis native is a step above being a graduate assistant and performing a variety of grunt work.
“You do anything and everything that is required. It’s not a glamorous job, but you learn the nuts-and-bolts of this profession,” Ken Niumatalolo said of the low-level staff position.
Brian Blick, entering his fourth year as director of football operations, has already tasked his new assistant with a wide variety of duties.
Va’a Niumatalolo has mixed up post-workout shakes for players and stacked meeting rooms with snacks. He’s helped offensive assistant Billy Ray Stutzmann create Excel spreadsheets and guided his father through all the links associated with a massive Zoom recruiting session with high school prospects.
“I’m ready and willing to do whatever is asked or required,” the younger Niumatalolo said. “Coming from being a graduate assistant, you definitely learn there are certain things that need to be done, so you just get after it. That’s the culture of this entire program and staff.”
Niumatalolo spent the past two years with the Hawaii football program, serving as a graduate assistant working with the offensive line in 2019. Coach Nick Rolovich initially hired the 2011 Broadneck High School graduate as an offensive intern in 2018.
“I really enjoyed my time at Hawaii. It was a great experience and I learned a lot,” Niumatalolo said. “I went from helping coordinate recruiting trips to grading film to coaching specific drills to cleaning up after lunch.
As a linebacker at Brigham Young University, Niumatalolo was tutored by two of the finest defensive minds in college football — former head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his successor Kalani Sitake.
At Hawaii, Niumatalolo learned the intricacies of the nation’s most high-powered run-and-shoot passing attack from Rolovich along with co-offensive coordinators Brian Smith and Craig Stutzmann. He spent the last year learning the intricacies of offensive line play from Mark Weber, a 38-year veteran of the business.
“Va’a has a good foundation on the defensive and offensive sides of the ball. In my mind, this is the next stage of his development,” Ken Niumatalolo said. “Now he’s learning about operations and other off-the-field responsibilities.”
On that front, Va’a Niumatalolo could not ask for a better mentor than Blick, a former Navy player who reached the rank of captain in the Marine Corps. He was a platoon commander for Battery E of the 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines during Operation Inherent Solvent in northern Iraq.
“Brian Blick is one of the most organized human beings I’ve ever met. He is regimented like you would expect of a Marines, but he is not rigid. He is very creative and dynamic,” Niumatalolo said. “I’m very fortunate to have Brian as my boss.”
Ken Niumatalolo may be the Navy big boss, but his middle of three children routinely reminds the 13th-year head coach that Blick is his immediate supervisor.
As director of football operations, Blick views his role as overseeing the entire support staff along with the various functions that entails. “There are a lot of moving parts, so it’s my responsibility to make sure everyone is on the same page and all the arrows are pointing in the same direction,” he said.
It’s a broad-based job and Blick welcomes having help in the department.
“I feel fortunate to have Va’a on staff and love working with him,” Blick said “Va’a has a great attitude and is incredibly talented, which enables him to be involved with so many different areas.”
Blick has deployed the first-year assistant to assist with recruiting tasks and logistics duties along with providing support as a quality control analyst.
“Va’a is so much like his dad in a lot of ways. He brings a great work ethic and there is nothing beneath him. He is extremely humble and kind, traits that no doubt come from Coach Niumat.”
Va’a Niumatalolo earned a degree in exercise and wellness from BYU and considered attending medical school. That would have pleased Barabara Niumatalolo, who says her middle child was always observant and detail-oriented while excelling in math and sciences.
Va’a Niumatalolo attended presentations from the various medical schools that visited BYU and took home brochures to peruse further.
“My parents were definitely trying to talk me out of coaching. They were all-in on medical school,” he said. “Football has always been my biggest hobby, my greatest passion. As I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, I kept coming back to coaching as a career. Some of the most important mentors in my life are football coaches.”
Rolovich was hired away from Hawaii by Washington State and took almost the entire staff with him. Niumatalolo was offered an opportunity to follow Rolovich to the Pac-12 school and chose Navy instead.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to work with my dad. If it wasn’t the Naval Academy, I would have for sure stayed with Coach Rolovich,” he said. “I’m excited to come here and learn first-hand what has made Navy so successful for all these years. I’ve been hearing about some of the reasons from my dad for years, but now I get to see it with my own eyes.”
Va’a Niumatalolo is intent on making his own mark in college football coaching, but knows some will always credit the influence of his famous father. The younger Niumatalolo hopes to show colleagues he brings value as assistant director of football operations.
“The entire staff has been great and treated me like an individual person, not just an appendage of my Dad,” he said. “I hope to keep that respect with the way I work. I have to prove myself every day.”
Va’a Niumatalolo got married in July 2015 while an undergraduate at BYU. He and wife Kenzie, a Salt Lake City native, now have two children — 3-year-old Aussie and 2-month-old Jada.
After spending almost a decade in Utah or Hawaii, Niumatalolo wasn’t sure he would ever reside on the East Coast again. Being back in Annapolis has been strange to say the least.
Niumatalolo moved into a house adjacent to Arnold Elementary, which he attended as a youngster.
“It’s kind of a surreal feeling being back here,” Va’a said. “I went to lunch at Panda Express the other day and had to call my brother to ask the best way to get back to the academy.”
Nobody is happier about this turn of events than Barbara Niumatalolo, who suddenly has two grandchildren less than 10 minutes away instead of on Oahu.
“Va’a is very happy to be back, and we’re very happy to have him back. We’ve never had the opportunity to live close to our grown children and their children,” Barbara said. “Special blessing that we’re really enjoying now.”
In a fun twist, Barbara has converted Va’a’s old bedroom into a playroom for her grandchildren. The Niumatalolo clan gets together almost every Sunday for dinner, although Barbara and Ken are careful to give their son and his family space.
While Barbara admits she would have preferred to see her son pursue medical school, she is now fully supportive of his coaching career.
“I’m really proud of Va’a. He’s a very smart person who has paid his dues and continues to do so,” she said. “He is humbly learning and working hard to understand the big picture of a football program.”Bill WagnerCONTACT
Bill Wagner has worked for Capital Gazette Newspapers for 30 years. He served as beat writer for Navy athletics and general assignment sports reporter. He is also the sailing editor.