‘God was still with me’: Former Navy head coach tells BYU–Hawaii students how personal revelation guided him through wins and losses

Though he didn’t always get the wins he hoped for, Ken Niumatalolo, the new head football coach at San Jose State University, told BYU–Hawaii students how he has been blessed by understanding God’s will

As Ken Niumatalolo stood at his office window at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, watching world leaders depart in helicopters, he felt a distinct impression — he would become the next head coach for the academy’s football team, and “the Lord would use (him) as an instrument to build His kingdom.”

That impression began an 11-year streak of personal revelation that guided him through wins and losses on and off the field.

Niumatalolo, now the newly hired head coach for the San Jose State University football team, returned to his hometown of Laie, Hawaii, Tuesday Feb. 26 to speak at BYU–Hawaii’s devotional.

Niumatalolo spoke to students about how preparing themselves to receive personal revelation will help them understand the will of God, feel comfort and survive spiritually in the days ahead.

‘Constant influence’

A little girl shows Niumatalolo a Hawaiian necklace.
Ken Niumatalolo's granddaughter Rosie, 5, hands him a lei to wear after he spoke to BYU–Hawaii students in Laie, Hawaii, about personal revelation on Feb. 27, 2024. | Monique Saenz, BYU–Hawaii

The Laie native shared quotes from Church President Russell M. Nelson’s April 2018 general conference address “Revelation for the Church, Revelation for Our Lives” — including his prophecy that it would be impossible for people to spiritually survive “in coming days” without the “constant influence of the Holy Ghost.”

President Nelson pleaded with Latter-day Saints to increase their spiritual capacity to receive personal revelation, adding that the Spirit would help them in all their “righteous pursuits.”

Said Niumatalolo: “Each of us can receive personal revelations specifically for our lives. The Lord reveals His will to us to guide us and to bless us because He loves us.”

Accepting the will of God

Niumatalolo shaking hands with a student.
Ken Niumatalolo greets BYU–Hawaii students after speaking to them in Laie, Hawaii, on Feb. 27, 2024. | Monique Saenz, BYU–Hawaii

Niumatalolo shared four experiences from his time as a college football coach and as a stake president in which he and his family were blessed after the Lord revealed His will to him through the Holy Ghost.


As an assistant football coach at the United States Naval Academy in 2007, Niumatalolo had no plans to seek the head coaching position. One day, reflecting on the uniqueness of the college, he felt the Spirit tell him that he would become the head coach, and “it wouldn’t be because of football, but the Lord would use me as an instrument to help build His kingdom.”

Following this impression, he began preparing by developing plays, recruitment plans, training plans and off-season schedules. Later that year, he received an interview for the position and was hired the same night.

“Because of the personal revelation that I had received months earlier from the Holy Ghost, I was completely prepared for that interview,” Niumatalolo said, adding “the Holy Ghost guided me.”

An impression

Eleven years later, Niumatalolo was called as president of the Annapolis Maryland Stake. Though unsure how he would manage the calling with his busy work schedule, he felt that it was God’s will and accepted it.

On his way home, in his mind’s eye, he saw himself leaving the academy football field, getting changed at home and rushing off to the stake center for a meeting. His house, the academy and the stake center were all less than five minutes apart from each other. In his time as stake president, he said, the vision occurred in real life several times.

His first season in the dual role of head coach and stake president was his most successful; the team finished 11-2 and ranked in the top 25. Believing his career success in 2019 was a direct result of his obedience, he expected to see the same results in the following seasons. Instead, the next three seasons saw big losses.

However, Niumatalolo said that those trials brought him closer to the Lord. He prayed and studied his scriptures more, allowing him to hear the voice of the Lord and receive clear guidance on how to lead his stake when the Covid-19 pandemic occurred in 2020.

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‘I am here’

In 2022, before a critical game against the United States Air Force Academy, Niumatalolo fasted and prayed earnestly. Instead of receiving guidance for the game, like he often did, he said the Spirit gave him direction on a stake matter his presidency had been praying about for years.

On the way to the game, he felt the Lord tell him, “I am here.” Believing that meant his team would win, he was disappointed when they were losing in the middle of the game. Asking the Lord again if he was there, he felt a voice respond, “I am here.” He believed that prompting meant they would pull off a win, but by the end of the game a loss was certain. Niumatalolo asked the Lord one more time if He was still there.

“Yes, I am still here,” came the impression.

“The Holy Ghost in His role as Comforter,” Niumatalolo said, “provided me with the comfort that I so desperately needed.”

‘He was still with me’

Later that year, the week of a game against the United States Military Academy, Niumatalolo said he had a dream — or nightmare — in which he saw Army fans run into the field in celebration. Distraught, he pleaded with the Lord to help his team win, telling Him that he was doing everything God asked of him.

“Then the impression came to my mind, ‘lovest thou this more than Me?’” said Niumatalolo, “In my mind I responded, ‘Lord, thou knowest that I love Thee more than this, but please no.’”

The day of the game, he felt prompted to call a play his team had not practiced that week. The call led to a 75-yard run for a touchdown. Expressing gratitude, he said he heard a voice say, “I am here.” But at the end of the game, in an attempt for a touchdown, Navy fumbled the ball and Army won, with fans storming the field in celebration. Niumatalolo was fired immediately after the game.

As stinging as that was, he was comforted by the dream he had earlier in the week and the play the Spirit put into his mind.

“He was still with me,” he said.

Remembering Christ’s atoning sacrifice

Referring to the words of the sacrament blessings, Niumatalolo said that the key to receiving the influence of the Holy Ghost is to remember Jesus Christ, his sacrifice and to keep His commandments.

“Simply stated,” Niumatalolo said, “the more we come unto Christ the more we have the companionship of the Holy Ghost.”

He finished his devotional by personal revelation does not always come in the time and way we expect.

“But, if we are worthy, they always come in the best time and in the best way for us, because our Heavenly Father is all knowing and all powerful, but most importantly,” he said, “His divine love is perfect and pure.”

‘Choosing with the end in mind’

Barbara Niumatalolo speaking at the podium.
Barbara Niumatalolo, wife of Ken Niumatalolo, speaks to BYU–Hawaii students in Laie, Hawaii, on Feb. 27, 2024. | Monique Saenz, BYU–Hawaii

Barbara Niumatalolo, also a graduate of BYU-Hawaii, spoke before her husband about the importance of making decisions with an eternal perspective and putting God first.

She shared how despite both Japan and Turkey suffering major earthquakes in the last year, the latter suffered tens of thousands of more deaths. The difference, she learned, was that Japan adhered to its own building codes, so its infrastructure was better prepared for such calamities. Despite the cost, Japan had a long-term view.

Similarly, she told students, having an eternal view can help them make better decisions.

“When you ‘think celestial,’” she said, “you stick to your standards, decision after decision, year after year, and increase your spiritual safety so you can reach your goal.”

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