Back in March, I received an invitation to introduce Navy head football coach Ken Niumatalolo as the keynote speaker for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the BYU Management Society’s annual gala.

I’ve known Kenny since he was an option quarterback at the University of Hawaii in the early ’80s and through his first cousin, Thor Salanoa, a BYU teammate and close friend. My wife, Keala, has known him since they were kids growing up on the north shore of Oahu. Keala often told me that every girl on the north shore had a crush on Kenny at some point in their youth, though she coyly avoided any admission.

Kenny was tall, athletic, handsome and the boy who stood in the presence of women. He was the kind of guy who was popular among his peers — male and female — and with adults: teachers, coaches, church leaders and parents. Even then, he was the all-American, boy-next-door, Eagle Scout do-gooder. Kenny met his wife, Barbara, after his LDS mission to California while both were in college, he at UH and she at BYU-Hawaii.

The weekend of the BYU Management Society gala, Keala and I drove two hours south to Annapolis, Maryland, to spend an evening in the Niumatalolos' beautiful home, then went with them to the gala in D.C. the following evening. The movie “Meet The Mormons,” which prominently featured the Niumatalolos, had been released in the fall, so there was a buzz of excitement in the air.

Kenny informed me the night we arrived that in the morning, the day of the gala, he was baptizing a former neighbor who had been taught by missionaries in their home, after which he had to be at the Navy facility because it was “Junior Day." (His staff was hosting select high school juniors and their families.) Kenny asked if we’d like to go or stay and rest for the gala. I said, “Kenny, are you kidding me?”

The baptism was simple and incredibly sacred. The new convert, a retired government employee, expressed his love for the Niumatalolos and his gratitude that he was taught the restored gospel in their home. Following a small reception for the new Latter-day Saint at the chapel, we drove directly to Kenny’s office at the Naval Academy.

At Junior Day, Kenny introduced me to the recruits, a few of whom were from the Philadelphia area and who were surprised to see me. I explained my connection to Kenny and our brotherhood as Polynesians and Latter-day Saints. I was already well-acquainted with Kenny’s staff because I had spoken to his players when they visited Temple last year in Philly. Temple shares Lincoln Financial Field with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Kenny is so highly respected by his peers and even NFL coaches that Eagles coach Chip Kelly got in hot water with Temple alums and fans for allowing Navy to use the Eagles' practice facility.

The Navy recruiting coordinator told me that while other programs compete for Division I talent, they once lost a player to Wal-Mart. The player from Georgia had only one offer — from Navy — when he opted to stay home to work for Wal-Mart. That story is legendary among their staff and a point of pride — because they compete tooth and nail with Notre Dame, Ohio State and Virginia Tech on the field, but never for recruits.

In addition to athleticism, the kids who go to Navy must be smart, self-motivated, team-oriented and believe in a greater purpose in their lives than the NFL because they have a five-year military commitment following their eligibility. And you can forget redshirting or getting married. It’s not allowed. Kenny informed me that of the 24 seniors in last year’s class, 17 were currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The others were trying to go by enlisting in the Marines — a more direct route to conflict than the Navy.

That’s the mentality of the kids playing football at the Naval Academy.

In the interest of gathering info for my introduction to the BYU Management Society, I asked one of Kenny’s players, who was working out in the weight room, to tell me something about his coach. “Sir, coach doesn’t have a lot of rules. Really, he only has two: 'return with honor' and 'choose the right.'” I probed the young man to elaborate.

“Well sir, he’s always telling us that because of our unique mission and obligation to the country, it’s important that we 'return with honor' from everything we do: class, the dining hall, our military training, football practice, games and even dates. And he’s always reminding us that there are always only two choices that confront us: right and wrong. Always choose the right. That’s it. He says if we do that, football will take care of itself.”

Naturally, I shared that insight in my introduction. I also shared that earlier in the day, I watched Coach Niumatalolo baptize a former neighbor at his ward building.

With his success, the national media have taken notice of his unique style. Last month, Paul Myersberg of USA Today made this observation of the peculiar culture at Navy and among its staff: “Navy closes up shop in the early evening. Coaches work long days, but they don't work nights; those are spent with families, as husbands and fathers, at Niumatalolo's request.” Kenny told Myersberg: “It’s football. We’re not looking for a cure for cancer or trying to build a spaceship that’s going to Jupiter. I think sometimes in coaching, you spend too much time here," he said. "If it takes you 18 hours a day sometimes to figure out what you're doing, how the heck are your kids going to figure it out in a 45-minute meeting?"

Football people would be shocked to know that it’s not just evenings that Navy’s staff has off, but Sundays, too. Kenny told me that the philosophy he expressed in “Meet the Mormons,” that he takes Sundays off but allows his staff to come into the facility if they wish to watch film, is no longer the policy. As a high councilor in his stake, he received instruction from his stake presidency to teach the principle of Sabbath observance more fully to members of the stake. He thought he already did with his stance shown in the movie, but through prayer and self-inspection, he felt promptings that he could do more. The impression came that he was the boss. He wielded considerable influence. Use it.

For him to simply take the Sabbath for himself was, in a way, selfish. He couldn’t force people to observe the Sabbath, but he could certainly provide the setting and atmosphere where the Lord’s day is respected and honored. While still yielding to his staff’s personal choice on what they did on Sundays, he announced before the beginning of this season that per the head coach’s wishes, assistants should spend Sundays with their families, go to church or synagogue or mosque but he did NOT want them in the facility on Sundays. Period. Do something other than football on Sunday. From here on out, Navy’s Football Complex would be dark. The staff looked around like he was crazy. Predictably, their wives and children love him for it. And members of his staff have turned down bigger opportunities because they want to work for and please him.

Kenny’s philosophy is that the Lord honors his promises. The coach views his program and his players as his “flock” or “crops.” As he observes the Sabbath day and Word of Wisdom, he expects the Lord to bless his program.

“Why shouldn’t I expect the Lord to bless my work when I keep his commandments?” he asked me. “If I put in the work, observe his Sabbath and allow my team and staff proper rest and nutrition, doesn’t he say to expect a bountiful harvest? I don’t grow grain. I grow young men.”

He continued: “I notice how often opposing coaches are just plain fatigued when we visit during pre-game warmups. They’ve been up for days watching film and checking every detail. We may miss some things here and there, but on game day, I think my staff is alert and we make adjustments and changes on the fly because we’re not tired. We run and aren’t weary and walk and not faint. It’s really that simple.”

His former assistant, Joe DuPaix, reiterated that as we stood on the sidelines last Saturday watching Southern Methodist open the game in a completely different defense than what Navy had prepared for. “This happens all the time,” DuPaix said. “It wasn’t that unusual for us to scrap our entire game plan on the opening drive. But Kenny and his staff prepare the kids for that; no one panics. We just shift into basic mode, which is part of the genius of the triple option and Kenny’s philosophy. He’s always telling them, ‘Football is easy. Soon, you guys will be doing way harder stuff.’ That resonates with these kids.”

Kenny regards this as the Lord’s promise that he and his flock “find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures.” In the heat of battle, they keep their composure and find ways, even hidden ways, to beat you.

Last weekend, at their invitation, the Niumatalolos had us back to Annapolis to watch the Midshipmen play SMU. It was a rout: 55-14. Navy was a three-touchdown favorite and coming off a huge upset win and demolishing over undefeated and 15th-ranked Memphis. Yet, there was no letdown. No playing down to the opponent. They were methodical; machine-like in their execution. They play disciplined and mistake-free. No untimely, drive-killing penalties or unsportsmanlike flags.

Their quarterback, Keenan Reynolds, scored four times to break Wisconsin running back Montee Ball’s NCAA all-time rushing touchdown record of 77. Reynolds now has 81 and is within two of Ball’s career combined TD record of 83. Reynolds is from Tennessee, and in Navy's 45-20 blowout win at Memphis, with the game well in hand, Kenny called a QB sneak so his quarterback could set the record in front of hundreds of his family and friends. To the surprise of the coaching staff, Reynolds audibled out of the play and pitched it to his halfback, Chris Swain, who scored his third TD on a 2-yard run. Reynolds explained to Kenny on the sidelines and the media afterwards that he recognized the defense Memphis was playing required him to pitch the ball to the back, just as he has always been coached. Being a selfless teammate, choosing the right, doing what he’s been coached to do and returning to the sidelines and locker room with honor transcended history and personal achievement.

After the SMU game, Reynolds presented the record-breaking TD ball to his dad, Donnie, who was his first coach. NFL Hall of Famer and Navy legend Roger Staubach was also on hand to personally congratulate Reynolds, a young man with a remarkable combination of athletic gifts, valor, humility, class, spirituality and maturity.

Staubach was a childhood idol, and I marveled that though I’ve seen him at coin-tosses in NFL stadiums, I didn’t meet him face-to-face until Kenny invited me into his locker room. Staubach loves the guy.

I watch with interest how Kenny quietly navigates his hectic schedule and the many people in his life — assistant coaches, players, rear admirals, administrators, legendary alums like Staubach and, yes, even the president of the United States, who is among a long list of Niumatalolo admirers partly because they both hail from Hawaii and because Kenny and his team make annual visits to the White House to receive the Commander-in-Chief Trophy for beating the other academies. Photos of Kenny standing next to President Obama and President George W. Bush dot his wall. Yet, Staubach, Obama and Bush aren’t treated any better than his secretary or the 16-year-old recruit who brought his entire family from Sicklerville, New Jersey. All get the same “aloha” and welcome into the Niumatalolo and Navy “ohana.”

“Vai, I love my family and love the Lord,” he told me. “But you’d be foolish to underestimate me or think my humility is a weakness. It’s not. I draw power from it. That power strengthens me in competition. And in competition, I will marshal all that power and energy to beat you.”

Vai Sikahema anchors the morning news for NBC10 in Philadelphia. He is a two-time NFL All-Pro and two-time Emmy winner and is enshrined in the BYU Sports and Philadelphia Broadcast halls of fame. He received the 2012 Deseret News President's Award.