Niumatalolo, who flew to Florida with offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper and assistant coach Chris Culton a couple of days after the accident, said it was one of the most difficult things he had to do in his career. A number of Montalvo's Navy teammates who were also home in South Florida for Thanksgiving converged on the hospital as well.
"It was really hard. You just saw the guy only a couple of days before at practice and then he is on life support. That was tough to see," Niumatalolo recalled. "To see his parents, I can only imagine what that was like. Actually I don't want to imagine what that was like. His mother is always such a vibrant lady and you see it just ripped her heart out."
One of those still fuzzy memories after the accident came the day of the Army-Navy game. The team had sent the uniform Montalvo — who had been promoted from scout team to third string — was supposed to wear for the game in Philadelphia. His parents had taken it to their son's hospital room.
"I laid it across his bed in the ICU room so when he opened his eyes it was right there," his father said.
Ralph Montalvo said the accident has been a life-altering event for the family. Rafi Montalvo has two younger brothers, Nicholas (18) and Marcus (13).
"It changes your whole family in a positive way," Ralph Montalvo said. "It puts everything in perspective. One of the things he said when he was getting better was, 'Dad, I'm really happy because God must have good plans for me.' The support and prayers from everyone here and at Navy helped us get through, and when you get to the other side of it, you're much stronger than you were before."
Said Rafi Montalvo: "It definitely made me enjoy the little things, from getting a question right in therapy, to being able to do one pullup in therapy working out. Being able to hang out with my brothers, working out with [Nicholas] and playing basketball with my little brother."
There is one major step to be taken, one that will come only if Montalvo is cleared to play.
"Being able to play football again, that would be amazing to me," said Montalvo, who also played on Navy's JV team last fall. "Every little step I take on the football field, I would cherish every moment. I think I took it for granted before."