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Mormon coaches and callings: How they balance serving in the church with pressure-filled profession

Published: Thursday, Aug. 21 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, left, reacts with safety Emmett Merchant following a turnover by Notre Dame during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Indiana, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009.

Darron Cummings, AP

Editor's note: This week, the Deseret News takes an in-depth look at how football coaches balance the demands of their profession with commitments to their faith.

Monday: Justin Anderson, Nicholls State

Tuesday: Ed Lamb, Southern Utah University

Wednesday: Steve Kaufusi, BYU

Today: Coaches and callings — serving in the LDS Church

Friday: Coaches and Christianity

Ken Niumatalolo is not a fan of camping. The Navy head football coach prefers nice hotels when away from home.

Yet when duty called a few years ago, he endured the outdoors for a week at a lake near Cumberland, Maryland.

Coach Niumatalolo is also the Young Men president of his LDS ward. For several days, the coach encouraged 15 teenagers to pass off Duty to God requirements and earn Boy Scout merit badges while attending Aaronic Priesthood camp. Game preparation for opponents like Notre Dame and Pittsburgh would have to wait.

“When I come to church, I am Brother Niumatalolo. I’m nobody special," Niumatalolo said in a recent Deseret News interview. "When I’m at camp, they don’t care that I’m the head coach. I guarantee there is not another Division I coach chasing around Boys Scouts, saying, ‘Put that knife down’ or ‘Don’t throw that rock.’”

Perhaps not. But there are many coaches like Niumatalolo who are dedicated to serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints despite the rigors of their profession.

Coaching football at the college and professional level is stressful, competitive and high-profile. Yet these men serve in their own unique ways. BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall is like the roving free safety of high councilors in his stake, speaking and filling in where needed. Steve Kaufusi, the Cougars’ defensive line coach, is the bishop of a young single adult ward in Provo. Utah assistant Morgan Scalley and Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell both serve as advisers to priest quorums. Weber State head coach Jay Hill was an elders quorum president for four years while an assistant at Utah. And Nicholls State head coach Charlie Stubbs has filled a number of church positions over his 30-year coaching career.

These coaches love the game of football, but they also love their families and the gospel — which is why they make it a priority to serve where and when they can.

“As long as you honor God and do your best to take care of your commitments and responsibilities, he will bless you,” Scalley said.

Juggling act

Mark Atuaia has returned from road games as late as 2 a.m., knowing full well that he has early-morning church responsibilities. In those instances, he gets "a quick nap on the couch" before he's off for a 5 a.m. high council meeting.

Atuaia, BYU’s second-year running backs coach, is in his third year of serving on the high council of the Utah Tongan Wasatch Stake, which extends from Lehi to Nephi. He also attends the Provo 10th Ward, where he and his wife — the Relief Society president — take their seven children, ranging from a senior in high school to 2 years old.

No matter how you look at it, balancing home life with work and a church calling can be a daunting task sometimes, Atuaia said.

“It’s very, very tough," he said. "We’re brought up in an LDS culture (where) no calling is too small or too big, and your diligence in that calling in some aspect shows your love for the Savior. That’s not something you take lightly, even with a demanding job like coaching.

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