It’s been a while since we've been there. When I played here, it seemed like we played there every year. —BYU Linebackers coach Steve Kaufusi
PROVO — As BYU’s disastrous campaign comes to a merciful end this weekend, it marks the first time in a dozen years that the Cougars won't be playing in a bowl game.
Despite the fact that BYU (3-9) and Hawaii (3-8) have abysmal records — the Cougars are coming off a humiliating 16-10 home loss to UMass while the Rainbow Warriors just suffered a 38-0 setback at Utah State — this weekend’s season-finale in Honolulu may actually feel a little like a bowl game.
There will be beautiful weather, it's a holiday weekend — Thanksgiving is Thursday — there are two teams desperate for a win, and there's a venue, Aloha Stadium, that has hosted postseason games for decades.
For Hawaii, a visit from BYU produces a bowl-like atmosphere anyway, no matter the circumstances. For the Cougars, this showdown is important, particularly to those with ties to the Pacific islands, like senior defensive lineman Handsome Tanielu, who hails from Waianae, not far from Honolulu.
“I just wish we were going to a bowl game. But the fact my last game is going to be in Hawaii as a BYU Cougar is going to be emotional, for sure,” Tanielu said. “I never thought I’d finish there.”
Growing up, Tanielu was a huge Hawaii fan.
“A lot of my family played for Hawaii. I was a diehard,” he said. “I wanted to play for UH when they had (quarterback) Colt Brennan and played in the Sugar Bowl. I was a big fan. Then I decided I wanted to go away from home.”
Tanielu understands the intense rivalry between BYU and Hawaii.
“Funny story,” he said. “When I was going to a UH camp in high school, some kid was wearing a BYU shirt. They got so mad. They made him take it off. The kid had to work out without a shirt. That’s stuck with me this whole time. I didn’t know how bad it was. Looking at the history, there are a lot of Polynesians on both teams. It’s always a fun game.”
Because he lives in Oahu, he’s expecting 40-50 family members and a bunch of people from his LDS stake to attend the game.
“There will be more BYU fans than UH fans, for sure,” Tanielu said.
BYU (3-9) at Hawaii (3-8)
Saturday, 7 p.m. MST Aloha Stadium
TV: CBS Sports TV
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
BYU sophomore left tackle Thomas Shoaf served as an LDS missionary in the Hawaii Honolulu Mission.
“I am very much looking forward to that trip. It will be almost two years since I’ve been home,” Shoaf said. “With football and training, I haven’t had time to go back. I spent a year and a half on Oahu, so I have a lot of friends and a lot of connections there. There are a lot of people there excited to see us play.”
When Shoaf tells people he served in Hawaii, some people tend to roll their eyes.
“The typical thing I hear is, ‘That’s not a mission, that’s a vacation.’ But then when you start listing off mission rules like, ‘You can’t touch the sand,’ things like that, they change their mind and say, ‘That would stink.’”
During his mission, Shoaf served on a few of the islands, including Molokai and Oahu.
“There’s a strong LDS influence there. I served in Laie for about six months. That was a real treat to get to know the people there,” he said. “The No. 1 thing you notice is how selfless people are there. There are a lot of people that lived in houses that weren’t that eye-catching and they didn’t eat very well during the week. But they’d pull out all the stops and bring out their best food for the missionaries. It was very humbling to serve with people like that.”
Senior safety Micah Hannemann was born in Hawaii, then he moved with his family to Utah when he was a young boy. He’s excited to play his final college game in the Aloha State.
“I have a bunch of family over there. My grandparents live there. Most of my dad’s family still lives there,” Hannemann said. “He has seven siblings. I have a bunch of cousins and my grandparents live there. My parents will be over there. It’s Thanksgiving weekend. That will be cool to have a bunch of family there and to play where I first started playing football. It will be like a family reunion.”
It’s been six years since BYU has played at Hawaii. The Cougars beat the Rainbow Warriors 41-20 in 2011.
BYU linebackers coach Steve Kaufusi, a former Cougar defensive lineman in the mid-1980s, is one of the few still involved in the program who was part of that game six years ago.
“It’s been a while since we've been there. When I played here, it seemed like we played there every year,” he said. “It’s fun for the kids."
What does Kaufusi remember about playing at Hawaii?
“It’s like their bowl game. They get up to play. They’re physical,” he said. “Hawaii would always try to intimidate us. They’ve always been tough games. The games are physical, especially in the trenches. They know we’re on their turf, and they want to show what they’re all about. They have a chip on their shoulder. They want to earn respect, too.”