All eyes in the football world will be on BYU and Navy on Monday. The Cougars and Midshipmen will meet in Annapolis, Md. on ESPN in a primetime slot usually reserved for Monday Night Football games.
With the 2020 NFL season not kicking off until Thursday, two of the finest college head coaches to come out of Oahu’s North Shore will be in the spotlight. In Hawaii, when the game kicks off at 2 p.m., Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo and BYU’s Kalani Sitake will roam the sidelines at the helm of their respective teams. It will be the first time the Laie natives face each other in their head coaching careers.
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“It is a cool thing. I’ve known Ken for a long time,” Sitake said recently. “Our families are connected to Laie. It just makes you think of all the days growing up, that’s where I first learned how to play football — in Laie Park.”
Sitake and Niumatalolo’s memories of growing up in Laie both revolve around a tight-knit community where the competitive spirit of its athletes are instilled at an early age.
“You go there now, there’s probably a pickup football game, tackle football with no pads on,” Sitake said. “That’s kind of what happens in that area, you just know football’s a part of your life and so it’s really cool to be involved with it and be coaching and just thankful for the opportunities we’ve been given in our lives to be here and live in this wonderful country.”
Added Niumatalolo: “If anybody’s ever been to Laie, that would make it even more remarkable, just how small the town is. This is an exciting game. Kalani and I were texting a little bit earlier, this is an all-Laie championship game. All of us, we grew up as basketball pickup junkies, hours playing pickup basketball so we’re competitive dudes coming from the North Shore. It’s exciting.”
Navy and BYU are 1-1 against each other, meeting in 1978 and 1989, long before Niumatalolo and Sitake were at their current schools.
Niumatalolo, a former Radford and University of Hawaii quarterback, is entering his 14th year as the head coach for the Midshipmen, who are coming off an 11-2 2019 season in which the team finished ranked No. 20 in the final Associated Press Top 25 Poll. It’s the best finish the school has had in the poll since it finished No. 18 in 2015. Niumatalolo is also the program’s winningest head coach at 98-60.
Ironically, Niumatalolo was reportedly offered the BYU job in 2015 but decided to stay in Annapolis. The job ultimately went to Sitake, who has gone 27-25 in four seasons at his alma mater. The 2019 Cougars went 7-6, losing the Hawaii Bowl to UH in a dramatic 38-34 win for the Rainbow Warriors.
Monday’s matchup will feature a total of 11 players with Hawaii ties. BYU currently has six players from the islands on its roster while Navy has five, with more on the way in future years via the Naval Academy Prep School.
As for one of the current faces of football on the North Shore, Kahuku head football coach Sterling Carvalho will be an eager viewer come game time.
“I know those two coaches, as well as what they stand for,” Carvalho said. “I think for them it’s trusting the process, not compromising their standards, being true to themselves and their beliefs, and I think that’s the inspiration I get from these two coaches — do what you do, but don’t compromise your standards in obtaining your goals.”
Las Vegas is currently giving BYU a slight two-point edge in the matchup. Carvalho has a rooting interest in both teams but believes Navy will be the team starting its 2020 campaign 1-0.
“My father-in-law is here and he’s been a BYU fan as far as I can remember, over 21 years of being married to his daughter and he’s a BYU faithful and we just talked about this this morning. I’m going with Navy, I’m going with the boys that I know are there and so I’m going Navy,” Carvalho said. “Go Navy.”