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Mission to Ghana Opened Aggie's Eyes

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Niumatalolo Now A Force Up Front

A life-changing experience made getting reacclimated to Division I football difficult at first for David Niumatalolo.

But the numbers suggest he is getting there. Through four games, the 6-foot-4, 247-pound New Mexico State senior defensive lineman has 25 tackles, leads the team with four sacks and “has really come on,” said Aggies head coach DeWayne Walker.

Today, Niumatalolo captains the 1-3 Aggies at 0-4 New Mexico, where his team is a 2 1/2-point favorite.

Recruited by former Aggies coach Hal Mumme, Niumatalolo (pronounced Knee-you-mah-tah-LOW-low) came to Las Cruces from Kahuku (Hawaii) High in 2005. He appeared in all 12 of New Mexico State’s games in 2005 and 2006, finishing with 38 tackles and a sack as a sophomore.

Football seemed to be a promising path for him at the time. Niumatalolo pursued a different calling, however, embarking on a two-year mission trip to Ghana for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it,” he said. “Living in Africa for two years is culture shock for the first couple months. Physically, I didn’t really think about football for about 18 months.”

Understandably so, because his days were pretty well occupied. If Niumatalolo wasn’t busy proselytizing, he was doing other services for the church, like working with hospitals or local charities. Back then, working out meant running some stairs and doing pushups whenever he had a 30-minute block of time available.

“I wasn’t too much worried about that when I was on the mission. It was a great experience — the best two years of my life so far,” Niumatalolo said.

Football came to the forefront again only as the trip was winding down. It had become apparent that Mumme’s time was up at NMSU, so Niumatalolo started to wonder about his status with the team. Chances to talk on the phone were limited to Christmas and Mother’s Day, Niumatalolo said, and he had to receive most of the news regarding his future on the computer. When DeWayne Walker was hired, Niumatalolo’s father, James, began speaking with the new coach.

Adjusting from the offensive-minded Mumme to the defensive-minded Walker wasn’t difficult for Niumatalolo.

“I love both of them,” he said. “Coach Mumme recruited me, and coach Walker gave me a chance to come back to the school.”

In other ways, however, there were challenges. When Niumatalolo hit the weight room, he found that he could only bench press 225 pounds, a paltry weight for a Division I defensive lineman, and his squat was “a little less than that.”

“When he first came back, his weight was drastically lost,” said defensive line coach Jesse Williams. “When he left, he was 265 pounds. When he came back he was 210 pounds.”

Practice was even harder.

“Physically I was worse off than my freshman year when I first came (to NMSU). I was in the ice bath every day,” Niumatalolo said.

Niumatalolo redshirted in 2009 and contributed in a limited role a year ago, recording 19 tackles and a fumble recovery. It was not until this season that he reached full strength and became a factor on obvious third-down passing situations.

“He’s really improved that way,” Williams said. “He’s not a guy that has a go-to move, but he’s relentless like a pass rusher should be.”

Both on and off the field, Niumatalolo, 25, tries to set an example for his teammates. The extra years of maturity don’t hurt.

“Not only does he take the guys to church, he’s one of the quiet unsung leaders,” said Williams,.

As for life after football, Niumatalolo, a biology major with a minor in biochemistry, plans to draw upon his time in Africa to help others.

“Seeing all that suffering (there), I wanted to do something in the medical field,” he said. “The mission kind of sparked the interest in that.”
— This article appeared on page D5 of the Albuquerque Journal

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