When Crimson Bears’ junior 2011 All-Railbelt First Team selection Philip Fenumiai leans down to take the first snap during the large school state football semifinal game against Service on Saturday he will face a huge task.
The Cougars boast, roughly, 22 All-Cook Inlet Conference selections. At the top of that list is first-team junior defensive back Matthew Ilalio, whose task will be to prevent the JDHS offense from moving up field, that includes Fenumiai, his cousin.
“It’s exiting, but I am also nervous,” Philip Fenumiai said about seeing his cousin across the line. “It is going to be crazy. Seeing him across on the other side of the ball is going to be emotional, but for the most part it will be really exciting and a good experience.”
Added Matthew, “It is just a game. To play against him for the first time is going to be fun.”
If Philip needs to wonder what is going on in the mind of his cousin or any other defensive player he can turn to the Crimson Bears’ sideline and 2010 Defensive Coordinator of the Year, Al Fenumiai, his father.
Likewise, if Ilalio wants to get into the head of the offensive opposition he can turn to the sideline and conspire with Service’s CIC 2011 Assistant Coach of the Year Numi Ilalio Jr., his father.
“Philip and Matthew both deserve what they have accomplished,” Al Fenumiai said. “They both work extremely hard off the field. A lot of people don’t see that.”
This is the first time that the cousins have played against each other and the first time the brothers have coached against each other. Al was not coaching JDHS in 2008 when Numi coached Service via phone from Afghanistan where he was posted with the National Guard during the Cougar’s 22-14 state championship win over the Crimson Bears.
Last season Service lost in the championship game to West 6-0. JD had lost to West the previous weekend in the quarterfinals that year 21-18. Both Philip and Matthew were selected to the 2010 All-State Tournament team as sophomores; Philip as one of the 12 offensive selections and Matthew one of the 12 defensive.
Al and Numi both began coaching in Juneau. Numi was the Crimson-Bears’ defensive coordinator from 1997-2000 and Al was his line coach. The two were teammates on a state power-lifting team.
“I have a lot of respect for my brother,” Numi Ilalio said. “I admire what he has done for the Juneau kids. He is a great coach, he brings a lot of fire and I enjoy watching him. I think he is a better coach than I am. I am a little nervous playing against him. If he wins he deserves it, and if I do my kids deserve it too. It’s the name of the game.”
Said Al, “I love training with my brother. It is going to be a really good game. We just have to go out and compete. It is like any other game., except my brother is a great coach.”
Growing up the brothers both played at Marist Brothers High School in America Samoa. Al was four years older and played cornerback and defensive back, Numi played middle linebacker. Numi walked on at the University of Hawaii.
Numi said Al was “a hell of a player and the best in the family,” Al stated that Numi “was the best player on the island and is obviously now a darn good coach.”
Their father, Su’a Ilalio, was a boxing champion who ran a Golden Gloves Boxing Club on the island.
“I guess you can say we were very competitive in that sense but never towards each other,” Numi said. “We were bought up to be competitive with whatever we were doing.”
Al injured his knee playing and their mother, Suasaa, forbid Numi to play. She found out he was playing when she heard his name on the radio.
“Watching Al play motivated me to play football,” Numi said. “Just watching him excited me. I had to sneak away to play. My mom heard my name on the radio making tackles. Luckily Al and my oldest brother Leo, also in Juneau, calmed my parents down.”
Philip and Matthew grew up playing on youth soccer and football teams together until Numi was stationed in Anchorage.
“We were always competitive when we were little,” Matthew said. “Now I get to compete against him, so that is fun.”
They still attend football camps together. Philip and Matthew were the only two sophomores chosen to play on the Alaska Alliance All Star team last season. The team traveled to Washington where college scouts could look at senior players. The two were also chosen to the state tournament all-star team at last seasons high school championships.
This past summer they spent six weeks together in Las Vegas at a football training facility, living with a University of Nevada Las Vegas player who had graduated from Service. They trained six days a week. Mid-way through the training Al and Numi visited them briefly.
“Matthew and I got to know each other pretty well,” Philip said. “We already did but we got to spend a lot of quality time together. It was really fun for us. I feel like we are really close now, not only cousins, but I consider us brothers.”
As Service’s assistant coach and offensive coordinator Numi is their quarterback’s coach and often gives advice to Philip. As JD’s defensive guru Al often gives advice to Matthew. Each wants the other’s son to have a great game.
“We don’t get into all that mind game, smack talking, false motivation,” Numi said. “You have to come out and compete.”
Philip said he and Matthew were both just going about business the past weeks.
Philip has completed 75 of 132 passes on the season for 1,469 yards with 19 touchdowns and one interception; and has rushed 86 times for 450 yards and seven touchdowns. Matthew is leading the Cougars in tackles and interceptions.
“We are not trying to joke around too much,” Philip said. “We are trying to keep it serious. He is a great athlete, there are very few like him in the state. He has his own set of skills that I think are really good. He is going to go a long way.”
All four agree the game will be exciting. Juneau and Service had a chance to scrimmage at a camp in Anchorage prior to the season’s start. Both teams know what they are up against and both respect their opponents.
“We measure up in size, I just hope we can match their speed,” Numi said. “I am concerned about their defense. Al and Phil are going to make some things happen. Al is a great defense coordinator and you can quote me on that.”
“As much time as Al and I spent together, the last couple of years Matthew and Philip have spent that much time together too,” Numi said. “They have mutual respect for each other and what the other does well. It will be a good experience for those two kids as well as me and my brother.”
Al called Numi last night to see if his brother was going to watch the other semifinal between West and South on Friday at Chugiak. They will watch it together. They both know each is doing everything to prepare their sons and their team for the game and they respect and admire that.
“Every time he comes up here, outside of football, he typically stays with me and we go out and have something to eat,” Numi said. “Whatever the outcome of this game, one will support the other for the next game.”
Al mentioned that Numi has state championship rings form coaching at East and Service.
“We are pretty tight, pretty close,” Al said. “He doesn’t rub that stuff in. We talk about competition and how each other’s kids are doing. We have each told our sons that their uncles are going to have their teams ready, so just be ready to play smart.”
When asked if he was going to throw the ball to Matthew’s side of the field Philip laughed, “I joke around with him on that sometimes. Hopefully not.”
Matthew said he called Philip before JD’s last game against East.
“I told him he had better win so we would get this chance to play against each other,” Matthew said. “I just like the teamwork of football, of going to battle with your team against another team. And at the end you end up being close friends. Phil is like that too. He is a great player to watch.”
When the game is over Matthew said he was going to go up and hug Philip, win or lose.
“I already know he is going to put everything he has into the game,” Matthew said. “And I will congratulate my uncle too, because I know it will be a really good game.”