After helping lead Boise State to four consecutive seasons of bowl eligibility, many anticipated that Kahuku’s Kekaula Kaniho would have started his pursuit at an NFL career this past spring but instead he’s set to return for a second senior season with the Broncos.

In the offseason, Kaniho is enjoying time back home in the islands training with younger brother, fellow Boise State defensive back Ka’onohi Kaniho.

“A few things went into it. Definitely, first and foremost my education. Coming back, I just graduated this May so knowing that I finished school while I was still playing ball was probably the biggest thing,” Kaniho told KHON2 Sports Reporter Alan Hoshida. “Another thing was having one more year to play with my brother and really just give back to the younger guys and the guys that I didn’t have too much time going into a COVID year. I’m really taking this opportunity to pour back into them and have one more good season with my brother which I didn’t think I would ever have again.”

The 2016 Cover2 Manti Te’o Award winner as prep defensive player of the year has continued his collection to the trophy case at the next level as the multiple time All-Mountain West Conference selection has performed both on the field and in the classroom which was emphasized by winning the 2020 Senior CLASS Award.

The award, chosen by a nationwide vote of Division I FBS football coaches, national football media and fans, is given annually to the most outstanding senior student-athlete in Division I football. To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as an NCAA Division I senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence: classroom, community, character and competition.

An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the Senior CLASS Award focuses on the total student-athlete and encourages students to make a positive impact as leaders in their communities. Kaniho is the first student-athlete from Boise State to win the Senior CLASS Award.

In his time back in the islands Kaniho is committing himself to preparing himself both physically and mentally to make the most of an unexpected opportunity to extend his collegiate experience. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic season of 2020, NCAA student-athletes were permitted to compete in all or a portion of the 2020-21 season, but it won’t be counted against their years of eligibility depending on their division level specific eligibility rules.

“Just continue developing every part of my game. From physically, gaining a little more weight, getting stronger at the same time. Building some speed and quickness and then really just diving into each part of our defense a little bit more. Learning more about the fronts of our defense and just really building off of all those things. The main thing is just becoming a better leader. That’s one thing that it’s kind of an intangible that not a lot of guys can do so, taking the opportunity with the younger guys and even the seniors that are coming back and just forming a good leadership group and pouring back into the team that way.”

This upcoming season, Kaniho will not have an opportunity to play the University of Hawaii, as the Broncos and Rainbow Warriors are not on each other’s regular season schedule, but Kaniho remains grateful that he was given a chance to play at Aloha Stadium in the fall of 2020. Not knowing it at the time it served as one last chance to play on the field he grew up going to as both a youth player and fan. Late last year it was announced that the Stadium is no longer fit for use for fans and it was recently announced that the venue will be demolished in 2022.

“It was special. That was a game that we looked forward to for a long time. My senior year, thinking I would have all my family there in the stadium but even though that wasn’t what happened it was still really nice being back home in the environment that I grew up playing in. Going to the same locker rooms, doing those same kind of things. That was special and I’m grateful we got to play in the last year that it was still around, so that was great.”

Kaniho and his Broncos will open the 2021 season on September 2 against UCF in Orlando. He’ll enter his final season with 165 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, and five interceptions in 48 career games.