Sunday, April 8, 2012

Coach Fenumiai "Numi" Ilalio Jr. Service High Alaska


The man who implemented Service’s spread attack, assistant coach Fenumiai "Numi" Ilalio Jr. is also a full-time member of the Army National Guard.

Four games into last season, Ilalio was called away to Fort Riley in Kansas for training before deployment on a special assignment in Afghanistan.

Photo courtesy of Service High School.
Ilalio helped change the culture at Service.

Ilalio wasn’t just a coach or disciplinarian or mastermind, Calderera said. He was voted by Alaskan coaches as the state’s top assistant the last three seasons.

“He changed the culture and attitude of this team,” he said.

When South Anchorage High was built in 2004, Service went from 2,500 kids to 1,400. The talent base suffered greatly and so did the win-loss record.

Ilalio was a highly successful coach at East and Juno and led teams to state titles. Calderera brought him over to Service in 2006 and the tide turned.

“It was really tough those transition years but Numi really help turn that all around,” Calderera said.

With Ilalio away at training, that made last year’s state championship all the more unlikely and emotional.

“He was only away physically,” Calderera said. “Otherwise he was with us right to the last gun.”

In fact, Ilalio helped the Cougars fight back from a 14-2 halftime deficit to beat Juneau (Douglas) 22-14 in the state finals.

Ilalio’s wife Terry texted her husband every play of the first half. During Calderera’s halftime speech, Ilalio made a call to the locker room.

Photo courtesy of Service High School.
Coach "Numi" is due back from Afghanistan in the next two weeks.

According to Calderera, Ilalio said: “What the hell is going on? Loosen the defense and throw the ball.”

After the Cougars scored 20 unanswered points in the second half to win their first state title since 1999, Ilalio and the 16 soldiers working under him that day in Kansas broke into cheers.

Ilalio broke into tears.

“You kinda have to understand where we’ve been and all we’ve gone through to understand the emotion,” Calderera said. “Plus football is very, very important to Numi. It’s one of the things to help him stay grounded and sane.”

Ilalio was deployed for combat in November. “Likely to the front lines,” Calderera said. “He can’t tell us much, but all we know that he’s on a special mission.”

He returned for a two week break in April, visited the team at camp, and returned to Afghanistan. He’s due back to Anchorage for good in the next two weeks.

Waiting, among others, is his son Matthew, an incoming freshman who will play on Service’s “C” team this year.

“The kids were ecstatic to see (Ilalio) in April,” Calderera said. “They’re incredibly anxious to get him back. We all are.”

Service (8-3 last year) opens Saturday against arch-rival South, a team it hasn’t beat since it opened in 2004.

“It’s a heck of a way to start,” said Calderera, a 1989 graduate of Service. “We’ll have 5,000 fans, standing-room-only. In many ways, this is our biggest game of the year.”

Both teams were depleted by graduation. South lost 32 seniors from last year’s 9-1 squad that won the Cook Inlet Conference. Lineman Dylon Short is the only returning offensive starter.

Besides Sokimi and Riggs, Service will also be largely new players. Xavier Jackson, a transfer from California, figures to be the team’s big playmaker.

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