The two Latter-day Saints who will be calling the shots on opposite sidelines for their respective college football squads on Sept. 7 share much in common.
Both Brigham Young University head coach Kalani Sitake and Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo (a.k.a. Annapolis Maryland Stake President Niumtalolo) are fun-loving family men and returned missionaries. Both are ultra-competitive former college players who established their coaching bona fides in the assistant ranks before taking over Division 1 programs. And both proudly share a rich Polynesian heritage.
And here’s one more similarity between Coach Sitake and Coach Niumatalolo: Both have been featured in Church News cover stories.
From his football office overlooking Spa Creek in 2017, Niumatalolo discussed his gospel-driven coaching career. And earlier this year, Sitake spoke with the Church News about the growing visibility of Latter-day Saint college football coaches and preparing for the 2020 season during the ongoing pandemic.
Connections between the BYU and Navy programs extend beyond the Church membership of their respective head coaches. Navy assistant coach Joe DuPaix — who presides over the Naval Academy’s Latter-day Saint branch — was the Cougars’ recruiting coordinator and running backs coach for two seasons (2011-2012). And Niumatalolo’s son, Va’a, is a former BYU linebacker.
“Navy plays great football and we have the utmost appreciation and respect for all of the sacrifices the members of the military academies make on all of our behalf,” said Sitake on Thursday in a BYU statement. “Ken (Nuimatalolo) is a great football coach and a personal friend who I have known since I was young and always admired both as a person and as a coach. We are looking forward to the matchup.”
Naval Academy Director of Athletics Chet Gladchuk shares Sitake’s excitement for the Sept. 7 nationally televised game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“We have created an exciting and anticipated matchup in Annapolis with one of college football’s storied programs in BYU,” he said in a statement. “This game will bring great national exposure for the Naval Academy, Annapolis, our state and Navy football. Although attendance in our stadium will be regulated and greatly reduced with fan welfare and social distancing guidelines in effect, a national television audience will enjoy watching two of college football’s most storied programs kick off the season in a primetime environment.”
The Labor Day game will mark the third meeting between BYU and Navy. The two teams met in the inaugural Holiday Bowl in 1978, with Navy coming away with a 23-16 victory. BYU gained revenge in 1989 when the Cougars traveled to Annapolis and won 31-10.
The Cougars and Midshipmen will also participate in the first true night game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium since 2005.
Navy will play a return game in Provo, Utah, at a date and time to be determined, according to the Academy.