Nu’umotu Falo remembers well the last time Inderkum played Oakdale.
He was a wide-eyed 13-year-old watching his older brother play for the Tigers against the Mustangs in the 2009 Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinal in Natomas.
“It was one crazy experience,” Nu’umotu said. “The home side was packed. The away side was packed. It was intense with back-and-forth scoring, a real battle of the wing-T. You could see it was going to come down to who hit harder and who ran the ball better.”
Inderkum won 49-30, but the stakes will be higher when the teams play Saturday night at Lincoln of Stockton. This time they are playing for a Division III section championship and a possible trip to the CIF Northern California Regional playoffs.
Nu’umotu – “NJ” to family and friends – now is Inderkum’s chiseled 6-foot-2, 225-pound All-Tri-County Conference senior linebacker and tight end. And his talented cast of teammates includes younger brother Josh, a 6-4, 205-pound sophomore defensive end.
The Tigers, 12-1, won their seventh Tri-County Conference title in eight years, and it’s coach Terry Stark’s ninth consecutive 10-plus-win season.
Nu’umotu and Josh hope to lead Inderkum to its first section football title after watching the Tigers and older brother Nate, a star offensive and defensive lineman for the Tigers, lose heartbreaking D-III finals in 2008 and 2009 to Casa Roble and Del Campo, respectively.
Nate, a junior defensive tackle at San Jose State, is his younger brothers’ biggest supporter, other than their mother, Meaatoa, and he will be at the championship game after the Spartans’ season ended last weekend.
“Because of his football schedule, he hasn’t had a chance to watch me play at all since my sophomore year,” Nu’umotu said. “It could be my last game, so having him come up to watch me and my younger brother is a dream come true.”
Nu’umotu said Nate was as much a father figure as an older brother growing up. Their father, Nu’umotu Sr., died when NJ – short for Nu’umotu Jr. – and Josh were in elementary school.
“When we were at home alone, he was the one watching us,” Nu’umotu said. “He’s been a great inspiration for me and my brother.”
Josh said watching his brothers become stellar students and impact players has fueled his desire to carry on the family tradition and keep the Tigers among the area’s perennial powers.
“Because of them, I fell in love with football,” Josh said. “Now it’s a matter of getting better each year.”
Nate has been texting tips on how his brothers and the top-seeded Tigers should defend against No. 3 Oakdale’s triple-threat backfield of 1,000-yard rushers Frankie Trent, Darus Nelson and Brock Whiting.
“He said we’re going to have to tackle well, play smart and there’s going to be a lot of physicality, so you’ve got to outwork them,” Nu’umotu said. “They play like us, so it’s about who punches the hardest, gets off the ball the quickest and keeps their feet moving the most that’s going to win.”
Nu’umotu and Josh are expected to follow their older brother into college football. Nu’umotu has verbally committed to Colorado, and Stark said the Buffaloes also have made an offer to Josh.
“They’re an awesome family, very loyal.” Stark said. “NJ has been a super leader. He’s been a part of our program since he was a little kid. I remember Josh when he was so little, and now he’s going to be the biggest (Falo) out here.”
Stark said because of the Falos, other Polynesians have enrolled at the Natomas school, and not just because of football.
“They’ve been telling the (Polynesian) community all the great things that are going on here, that our kids are going out and getting scholarships,” Stark said. “We’ve had 27 players earn scholarships in seven years because the kids are going to class and getting it done. We’re not just winning football games.”
While Nate, Nu’umotu and Josh have thrived on the football field and in the classroom, they’ve had to overcome a number of financial hardships since their father died. Their sister Jamie, also an Inderkum graduate, is in the Army.
“We’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs,” Nu’umotu said Thursday after practice. “But my mother is a strong woman. She’s worked so hard to take care of four children. But now she’s looking forward to a successful future with us. I can’t wait to retire mom and have her live in a big house where she can watch us play football on TV instead of out here in the cold.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.