Navy assistant football coach Ken Niumatalolo can count his blessings this holiday season after having received two special Christmas gifts in the past two weeks.
First, Niumatalolo won a free trip home to his native Hawaii when the Midshipmen, after losing to Army, received a late bid to play California in the Aloha Bowl in Honolulu on Christmas Day. The team arrived there Wednesday.
And Monday he learned of his promotion from slotback coach to offensive coordinator, replacing his longtime mentor, Paul Johnson, who will be head coach at Georgia Southern next season.
"Kenny allows us to maintain our continuity on offense," said Navy coach Charlie Weatherbie. "He ran this option system as a quarterback under Johnson at the University of Hawaii, and has coached it the last five years at Hawaii and Navy.
"He's only 31, but he has a very sharp mind and has excellent rapport with the rest of our staff."
Yesterday, Niumatalolo's mind was taking him back to his idyllic childhood growing up on the north shore of Oahu.
"I spend a lot of time thinking about home," he said. "When I watch the CNN weather report, I always look for the little insert on Hawaii, forgetting I'm living over 5,000 miles away where it will probably snow this week."
Niumatalolo recalled spending his teen-age days playing football, basketball or body surfing in the Pacific.
"There was really nothing else for us to do out in the country but play ball," he said. "Maybe that's why the area has produced so many good players. I grew up with two kids -- Tim Manoa [Cleveland] and Lakei Hemuli [Chicago], who went on to play in the NFL."
Somehow, Niumatalolo always wound up playing quarterback in the pickup games on the beach.
"I guess I always wanted to be in charge," he said. "I wasn't the best at throwing the ball, but I liked telling people what to do."
He led his Radford high school team to a 22-1 record his last two years and the 1981 Oahu Prep Bowl Championship. There were several scholarship offers from the mainland, but he chose to stay at home.
It proved a fortuitous decision, leading to his association with Johnson, who became his quarterback coach at Hawaii his junior year.
"He changed our whole offense," Niumatalolo said. "We always had talent, but had a hard time scoring. Now we were averaging over 30 points a game, so I knew coach Johnson's spread offense was special."
Niumatalolo was mainly a backup but took full advantage of Johnson's teachings.
"I decided I didn't want to mope around and waste my scholarship my senior year," he said. "I attended every coach's meeting possible. I owe almost everything I've learned about coaching from listening to Johnson."
This will be Niumatalolo's second trip to the Aloha Bowl. He played briefly for the Rainbows in 1990 when they were routed by Michigan State.
"I was on the field just long enough to get knocked out by Percy Snow, who went on to play with the Kansas City Chiefs. I told Coach Johnson, 'You played me for six minutes and gave me a weeklong headache.' "
But for Niumatalolo, everything has been on the upside since following Johnson to Annapolis in 1995. The rejuvenated Navy offense finished fifth in the nation in rushing yardage last year, leading to the team's first winning season since 1982 and the bowl bid.
And the Christmas trip home is a bonus.
"It's the place where I grew up and everything good started for me," he said. "Now going home to see my whole family is a wonderful gift. I have hundreds of relatives all over the island and they're planning a tailgate party before the game."
Niumatalolo has only one concern.
"I've already been asked for 40 tickets, and that's only for the relatives who have called," he said. "I'll probably have to fill up a whole section of the stands."
Pub Date: 12/19/96