BOISE — It’s a game that Kekaula Kaniho has looked forward to since the day he committed to play at Boise State.
The Hawaii native finally gets a chance to play the school he grew up watching on the islands — and against many familiar faces on the other side.
Kaniho and the Broncos host the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (4-1) at 8:15 p.m. Saturday night. Due to the unbalanced Mountain West schedule, it’s the first matchup between the two schools since the Kahuku High School graduate signed with the Broncos in 2017.
“It’s going to be fun to go up against a lot of guys I played against in high school and it’s going to be great to have my family here,” Kaniho said. “I know everybody back there will be watching this game and they will support the guys from Hawaii. A lot of people back home will be rooting for Hawaii, but at the same time rooting for me personally being on the other team.”
There are 48 players from Hawaii on the Warriors’ roster, and the junior Kaniho estimates that he knows 20 to 30 of them. Included are three players that also went to Kahuku High School. One is offensive lineman Ra Elkington, who graduated the same year as Kaniho and remains a friend.
“He was one of my good friends in high school and still to this day we will text each other and stuff,” Kaniho said. “We went to private school together and then went home to play at Kahuku together, so we have a great relationship.”
Kaniho had the chance to stay home and play for Hawaii if he wanted to, but said he “always wanted to leave home and be away from that.”
The Warriors probably wish they had him. Kaniho is second in the Mountain West with 7.0 tackles-for-loss, leads the team with three pass break-ups and is second on the Broncos with one interception. His 2.0 sacks are third on the team. He also has 22 tackles and a forced fumble.
Against UNLV last Saturday, the 5-foot-10, 182-pound nickelback had a sack, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, five total tackles and a pass break-up.
“The first thing with Kekaula is he’s 200 percent bought in,” Boise State defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said. “He’s got energy and he’s just got a way about him. He’s the type of guy you want as one of your leaders on the team. The way he carries himself and the way he plays.
“He’s not the biggest guy, but like the play where he got a sack in the last game, the explosion he can create suddenly is what you want on defense and he has the ability to make plays and create takeaways.”
Kaniho has played in 32 games for the Broncos since debuting as a true freshman in 2017. He’s played safety, corner and now at nickel and has proven to be one of the best and most reliable players the Broncos have in the secondary. He’s got five interceptions, 11 passes defended, 16.5 pass break-ups and two defensive touchdowns.
Tuesday Kaniho was announced as a team captain for Saturday's game.
“He means a lot to the defense,” linebacker Benton Wickersham said. “He brings a ton of energy and the focus he brings throughout the week, he’s a real leader in keeping us all dialed in and focused. And he’s a playmaker too. When we need something done he goes out and gets it done.”
Boise State has two other players on the roster from Hawaii. Redshirt freshman defensive end Kukea Emmsley attended Kapolei High School in Kapolei, Hawaii, while redshirt freshman offensive lineman Dalton Lins went to Lahainaluna High School in Lahaina, Hawaii.
Past Boise State players from the Aloha State include safety Jeremy Ioane and STUD Kamalei Correa.
Ironically enough the three people closest to him that want to be at Saturday’s game won’t be. His parents won’t be making the trip because it’s homecoming for his younger brother Kaonohi, a cornerback at Kahuku who is verbally committed to Boise State.
Kaniho said other family members and friends will be making the trip to see the rare matchup with the Warriors on The Blue.
The Broncos last played Hawaii in 2016 in Honolulu. Kaniho attended that game as a Hawaii football recruit, but later committed to Boise State. And while next year’s game in Hawaii as a senior will probably be even bigger for him, Kaniho admitted Tuesday that the matchup with the Warriors is not just another game.
“Yeah for sure,” Kaniho said. “It’s Hawaii. It’s where I’m from. … They are doing really good right now. Coming from where they were, they were struggling a little bit (a few years ago), but they are having a really good season right now. They beat two Pac-12 teams. They are a really good, tough team. We’re excited.”
And nobody will be more excited than him.
“It’s definitely going to be fun,” Kaniho said.