BOISE — Kekaula Kaniho has seen plenty and done plenty during his time at Boise State.
The fifth-year senior has scored touchdowns on interception returns, he’s scooped and scored on fumble returns, and he’s been part of historic comebacks like overcoming a 25-point deficit at Colorado State in 2017.
Heck, he’s going to set he program record Saturday against Air Force when he plays in his 55th game.
But his coolest and best moment to date at Boise State came last Saturday when he was on the field as his little brother Kaonohi Kaniho recorded his first collegiate interception.
“I think that’s the best memory for me and one I’ll remember forever,” Kekaula Kaniho said. “That’s just something right there where it felt like everything I’ve tried to give him throughout the years and just showing him the right way to do things and trying my best to do that, that moment felt like it kind of all paid off.
“To be there and help him off the field and run off with him in my arms was a pretty special feeling of just knowing that moment was a culmination of a lot of hard work.”
Kaonohi Kaniho is a redshirt freshman who played in four games last year as a true freshman. It was supposed to be his only season at Boise State alongside his older brother Kekaula, who was a senior last year.
But the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the NCAA ruled that 2020 wouldn’t count toward a player’s eligibility, meaning Kekaula could come back again in 2021.
While finishing his degree was a big reason why he elected to take the NCAA up on its offer to play another season, the chance at a second season with his little brother made it a no brainer.
The two live together, hang out together and are rarely apart. Last Saturday that even meant on the football field, as Kaonohi earned the first significant playing time of his two-year college career at corner due to three injuries involving players ahead of him on the depth chart.
The brothers were on the field together — Kaonohi lined up at corner and Kekaula was at his traditional spot at nickel — for several plays against BYU for the first time since Kekuala was a senior and Kaonohi was a freshman at Kahuku High School in Kahuku, Hawaii, back in 2016.
“That was pretty special to see,” Boise State coach Andy Avalos said. “When Kaonohi went in there and they lined up on both sides of the field the first couple plays, I’ll be honest — I couldn’t help but look over there too. For their parents, I can’t imagine what that was like for them. It’s a pretty unique situation.”
Kaonohi also finished with five tackles, including a key stop on third down to force a BYU punt.
“Kaonohi obviously stepped up and had a huge challenge on his hands with those outside wide receivers, but he stepped up and battled and made some key plays in some critical situations,” Avalos said.
And sure enough, the two brothers were on the field together late in the fourth quarter when Kaonohi came away with the first interception of his college career. The first player to reach him in celebration was his brother, and the two ran off the field with their arms around each other.
“It’s why we do what we do,” defensive coordinator Spencer Danielson said of watching the two brothers embrace. “Remembering that moment from the end of the game, to the locker room, I remember exactly where Kaonohi and Kekaula were on the field when they gave each other the hug and that almost brought tears to my eyes.”
Said Kaonohi of the moment, “That was super special. He was the first person I saw and I didn’t even know what to think and looking back and thinking about it, it was definitely a special moment I’ll never forget.
“We’re super close. We live together and are around each other all the time. I love being around him because he knows so much about the game and about life and being so much older than me, it’s nice to have somebody to talk to when I’m going through stuff and to ask questions too.”
The older Kaniho has had his time in the spotlight plenty. He was the 2020 Senior Class Award winner, a CoSIDA Academic All-American, an All-Mountain West honoree and has 184 career tackles, five interceptions, three fumble recoveries and three touchdowns.
Avalos said it wouldn’t surprise him if he’s President of the United States one day.
Kekaula has started 40 games, but has appeared in 54 during the past five seasons. When he appears in Saturday’s game, he’ll establish a program record. Barring injury he’ll surpass 60 games played by the end of the season — a rarity not only at Boise State but in college football.
“That’s pretty cool,” Kaniho said. “Being here going on five years now, I was lucky and grateful to get the extra year back, but for me, just kind of a testament looking back to the years of hard work, being available every single game, staying healthy to be of value to the team has been huge to me.
“Looking back when I’m done playing it will be pretty special to know I have that number.”
His brother, on the other hand, is just getting started. He’s played in just nine career games for the Broncos — mostly on special teams prior to last Saturday.
And that’s what makes it so cool. One brother on the tail end of his career and the other just getting started — and they get to experience it together.
“It’s special man,” defensive line coach and assistant head coach Frank Maile said. “When he picked it off I saw his brother run over there and celebrate with him and that’s kind of a cool deal because it doesn’t happen often. For those two to have an opportunity to play together at a high level and beat a top 10 team was special and a cool thing to see and I’m just happy I was part of it and able to share that moment with those guys.”
Don’t get it wrong though. As much as the two brothers are close and love each other, they still disagree like all brothers do. Their last fight was “probably yesterday,” according to Kekaula, “and we’ll probably get into one in 20 minutes after this too.”
Kekaula even joked that his brother doesn’t take out the trash enough.
The younger Kaniho likely will get significant playing time Saturday against Air Force due to the injuries at corner and could be in line to make his first career start.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Kaonohi Kaniho said. “I just have to stay ready for when my number is called like it was in this past game. I have to prepare like I’m going to be the guy.”
Even cooler? His big brother will be out there with him.
“I always dreamed of it,” Kaonohi Kaniho said. “Last time I played with him was in high school so getting another chance to do that at a higher level of football is a great opportunity.”
Younger brother appears to have a bright future ahead of him. How good can he be?
“I don’t know, but I hope a whole lot better than me,” Kekaula Kaniho said.
Kaonohi appears well on his way.