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The Idaho Press is counting down the 25 most important players to the 2021 Boise State football team. Next up is No. 5: Nickel Kekaula Kaniho.

There won’t be many players in college football with a better combination of experience and production in the fall than Boise State nickel Kekaula Kaniho.

The Hawaii native has a career’s worth of stats — 48 games played with 34 starts — and twice has earned All-Mountain West honors. Yet due to players getting their eligibility back from 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kaniho is back for one more year on The Blue.

Kaniho had seven pass breakups to lead the team a year ago and was fifth with 32 tackles in seven games — including 2.0 tackles-for-loss. He also scooped up a blocked field goal and went 91 yards for a touchdown. He was a second-team All-Mountain West pick.

The 5-foot-10, 186-pound Kaniho was named to the All-Mountain West First Team in 2019 after finishing with 11.0 tackles-for-loss and 3.0 sacks among his 61 total tackles. He also had an interception and a fumble recovery.

Kaniho led the Broncos with three interceptions in 2018 and had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown after he scooped up a loose ball. As a freshman in 2017 he scored two defensive touchdowns, including a pick-six in the Las Vegas Bowl against future first round NFL Draft Pick Justin Herbert of Oregon.

He’s started at least five games in each of the past four years and likely will become the first player in program history to start at least five games in five different seasons.

Kaniho, who won the Senior CLASS Award last year, is a team captain and a model leader on and off the field. He’s arguably the heart and sole of the defense — and a huge piece to have back.

B.J. Rains has covered Boise State athletics for the Idaho Press since 2013 and is a three-time winner of the NSMA Idaho Sportswriter of the Year Award. He appears on KTIK 93.1 FM The Ticket every Friday at 4 p.m. for the Blue Turf Sports report.

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