Navy football coach remembers Will McKamey as a 'special person'
By JESSE SMITHEY | Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn. (MCT) | Published: April 1, 2014
Navy football coach Ken Niumatalolo and two buses full of classmates and teammates attended the funeral service Monday for Navy freshman slot back and former Grace Christian Academy standout Will McKamey.
Niumatalolo said Tuesday on a sports radio show that the service was “beautiful” and that the team is still struggling with grief over his death.
McKamey died March 25 at age 19 from complications stemming from a head injury. He collapsed during a Navy spring practice March 22 and underwent cranial surgery to treat brain swelling and a blood clot.
“Well nothing prepares you for this, from a
football standpoint,” Niumatalolo said. “There’s no blueprint. There’s no prevention talk that teaches you how to deal with something like this. He was such a wonderful young man, and his parents are such wonderful people. It’s really hit our team hard. To lose one of your brothers, our guys are still struggling.
“It was a beautiful service yesterday, but I can’t imagine what they (the family) have had to go through. It’s definitely been a tough time.”
Navy canceled practices last week to allow time for mourning. The program isn’t concerned at this point, Niumatalolo said, with making up for time missed. Right now, it’s about getting through the grieving process, he said.
The hospital in which McKamey stayed in last week had to open a separate waiting room just for his teammates and classmates.
“Our thing now, as we look forward, is: Will was a go-getter. He was a tough kid. He didn’t back down from anybody,” Niumatalolo said. “Our message to our team is: we have to live life, and we have to love life. That’s how Will would want it. We’ll mourn and continue to mourn, but we’ll press forward and try to be the best people we can be — just like Will was. The best student and the best teammate.”
Niumatalolo reiterated what Will’s mother, Kara, posted on Facebook last week, that Will underwent many tests and saw many specialists before being cleared to play again. McKamey suffered a season-ending head injury as a senior at Grace Christian in 2012.
“You always go back and look,” he said. “It was a pretty thorough process (to clear him for play again) on both sides. I know the McKameys already addressed that. But that was their son, and they were going to make sure they had every specialist take a look at it. Our people here at the Naval Academy, it was a pretty stringent process. You always go back and look. Both sides knew the situation. Nobody still knows what happened. It’s unfortunate that he’s not here. We’re just trying to be there for the family. “
The support from the McKamey family hasn’t stopped on social media, as the hashtag #LiveLikeWill has served as the catalyst. That slogan is an appropriate one, Niumatalolo said.
“Will was a strong Christian,” he said. “He followed the Savior. His message to people was that’s how he lived his life. He wanted to be an example for people to be like that. What you saw with Will was what you got. He constantly had a smile. If you’re smiling as a freshman here at the Naval Academy, you’re a special person — just with everything you have to deal with, from the military side to the academic side and playing Division I football.
“The kid always had a smile on his face. I think it’s a great example to all of us that: life is tough, and there’s a lot of bad things, but that never got Will down. He attacked everything that he did.”
Niumatalolo saw McKamey often, since he passed his locker on a daily basis given its locale in the locker room.
“I’d always see him, and he was always smiling,” said Niumatalolo. “Whether I thought the practice was good or bad, for me to walk past and see Will McKamey’s locker, just always made me feel good.”