Utah State's Hawaiians have fond memories of Rainbow Warriors
Logan • Before he was an Aggie, Brian Suite was a Rainbow Warrior.
In spirit, of course.
As a boy, Suite couldn't get enough of the Hawaii football team. He watched all of their games. His uncle, a team doctor, got him access to the sideline - every aspiring football player's dream in the Aloha State.
He remembers waiting patiently after games for the chance to get a player's gloves. Years later, those old memories still course through his mind as he walks of the field to a crowd of children with outstretched hands.
"It's a cool experience interacting with players," he said. "You never forget that. It's funny how your perspective changes on that."
Four Utah State players - Suite, Elvis Kamana-Matagi, Jarom Baldomero and Dustin Hoover - are Hawaii natives who mostly harbor fond roots with the Rainbow Warriors, their opponent this week. It is strange to take the field against them, Suite said, but from a game perspective, it changes little.
"I've always had respect for U of H and it's always been the hometown team," he said. "I respect them but when they come here, they're the enemy."
Suite chose to come to Utah State over Hawaii when he picked his college destination, but that wasn't the case for every Aggie. Baldomero said he would've loved to play for Hawaii if given the chance.
Nothing quite opens up the nostalgia for the Utah State linebacker like recalling the 2007 season. Hawaii busted the BCS that year, going undefeated in the regular season and getting ranked as high as No. 12 before falling in the Sugar Bowl. The program was in its prime under June Jones, and quarterback Colt Brennan would set a number of NCAA passing records that year.
The highlight? A win over Washington that prompted the Hawaii fans to rush the field.
"It was the biggest show in town," he recalled. "All throughout high school, we went to the games. It was huge."
He had hoped to be a part of the program some day, but didn't end up getting an offer. Baldomero elected to go to the mainland to follow the junior college path. It led him to Logan, but he admits it still stings.
"It was kind of personal to me," he said. "That was the tough side of things. It kind of hurt that I didn't get offered by the hometown team."
It turns out the Rainbow Warriors may have helped Baldomero in the end: Hawaii is winless and struggling as a program as the Aggies remain in contention for the Mountain West.
That Hawaiian connection is still there, but the Aggies from the islands share it with each other. They hang out a lot, Baldemero said - Kamana-Matagi is his roommate, for one - and they talk about the weather, the food, the beach, and anything that reminds them of home. They even talk to each other in Hawaiian creole, he said.
But even in another program more than 4,500 miles away, the Hawaiians belive the Rainbow Warriors will bounce back. Soon, even.
"They've had some hard times, but it's more a change in the coaching staff, and a change in the playing style," Suite said. "It's an adjustment. You see these last few games they've been a play or two from winning. It's bound to happen eventually."
Just not this week, he added.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon