During Bronson Kaufusi’s rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens, Navy Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo occasionally returned home to find Kaufusi in his basement playing video games with his youngest son, Ali’i Niumatalolo.
“I just would laugh to myself and I’d tell my wife, ‘He’s such a great person, Bronson is. How many other third-round draft choices on the weekends are playing video games with an 18-year-old?’ You know, most of them are probably doing other things, but here’s Bronson,” Ken Niumatalolo said.
As Ken Niumatalolo asked who the other video game players were, he learned that Bronson Kaufusi’s brother, Corbin Kaufusi and Ken’s other son, Va’a Niumatalolo were joining in from Provo, Utah.
From Maryland to Utah, these two families with football-coaching fathers have developed ties that extend to more than just their love of the game.
Ken Niumatalolo has known Steve Kaufusi, the BYU linebackers coach, for years, but the two, and their families, became closer in recent years because of their sons, Corbin Kaufusi and Va’a Niumatalolo. As Corbin and Va'a became best friends through BYU football, Va’a Niumatalolo found himself in the Kaufusi household on a regular basis.
In 2016, the opportunity arose for the Niumatalolos to repay the favor.
“When Bronson got drafted by the Ravens we were fired up because we knew we were right here,” Ken Niumatalolo said. “We’re 30-40 minutes from Baltimore.”
The Niumatalolos sent a text to the Kaufusis and told them not to worry — they would take care of Bronson.
Immediately, Bronson Kaufusi and his wife, Hilary, had a home away from home, complete with weekly dinners. The great food paired with great company.
“We’ll just laugh so hard sometimes,” Bronson Kaufusi said. “We’ll be at dinner just sitting there and talking and telling stories and we’ll laugh so hard — almost until tears. (Hilary and Barbara) look at each other like, ‘These two guys are crazy.’”
Barbara Niumatalolo cares for Bronson and Hilary like she cares for her own children. Bronson Kaufusi notes that whenever they talk, she asks if he needs anything. If they go out to eat and he orders two things, she tells him to order three.
“She checks in on us and sees how we’re doing all the time,” Bronson Kaufusi said. “... My wife says, ‘I’d call Barb right away if something happened.’ That’s just the relationship we have with them.”
While Barbara Niumatalolo became a mother figure for Bronson Kaufusi, the similarities between Ken Niumatalolo and his own father created an instantaneous bond.
“It’s easy for me to gravitate toward him because he’s very similar to my dad — he’s really driven, very humble and is all about helping those around him,” Bronson Kaufusi said.
Beyond sharing the titles of coach and father, Steve Kaufusi and Ken Niumatalolo share the same faith as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When Bronson Kaufusi broke his ankle during his rookie year, he knew he could turn to Ken Niumatalolo for a priesthood blessing and for counsel.
“He gave me some really good advice throughout that time period,” Bronson Kaufusi said. “I remember not just advice, but we’d talk through the whole season. It was all about moving forward and really looking for the silver lining. But also knowing why — there’s a reason these things happen. He was always encouraging and very supportive.”
As Bronson Kaufusi recovered from his injury, Ken Niumatalolo admired how the defensive end continued to train. When he couldn’t work his lower body, he continued to work on his upper body and watch his nutrition.
This is just one of the ways Bronson Kaufusi was an example to the Niumatalolos.
When Bronson came to visit the Niumatalolos and the priesthood meeting of stake conference happened to fall on the same weekend, the NFL defensive end donned his white shirt and attended.
“He’s made it in the NFL but he’s never forgotten who he is,” Ken Niumatalolo said. “And to see this guy who is 6’7”, big guy, coming to priesthood and obviously he sticks out because he’s this big handsome guy but he’s just the most humble person.”
When Ken Niumatalolo invites Bronson Kaufusi to his house for dinner, he’s not just returning a favor. He’s inviting a role model.
“He’s got a heart of gold and just to see that he’s still got his priorities straight,” Ken Niumatalolo said. “Here he is making it in the league but (he is a) loving husband, loves his wife, is a faithful priesthood holder. I just love that because I tell my son, ‘See, you can still aspire to the goals that you want and still choose the right and do what’s right.’”