Homecoming for Kamoku, Raiola

Trip to Hawaii is particularly special for two Wisconsin football players

HONOLULU — More than 4,000 miles from Madison, Donovan Raiola and James Kamoku are enjoying a homecoming.

Raiola, a senior center and third-year starter on the University of Wisconsin football team, attended Kamehameha High School here.

Kamoku, a third-year sophomore special teams performer, grew up in Kailua-Kona, a small town on the western side of the island of Hawaii.

When the Badgers kickoff against host Hawaii at Aloha Stadium here Friday evening, dozens of family and friends will be in attendance to watch the Hawaiian Badgers.

Raiola collected upwards of 70 tickets from teammates to distribute to family and friends back home. As of last Friday, he had at least 60 confirmed guests.

Raiola's parents, Tony and Wendy, typically travel to the mainland 5-7 times a year to catch a Badger game on Saturday and a Detroit Lions game on Sunday. Donovan's brother Dominic is the Lions' starting center.

"It means everything," Raiola said. "Running on the field, seeing them in the stands. It just shows how important we are to them."

This will be the first time Raiola's parents have had the opportunity to see him play in Hawaii since high school, however. And it will be a much more novel experience for the rest of his well-wishers.

"They're real excited," Raiola said. "The rest of my family that don't get to travel and haven't really got to see me or my brother play, are real excited to see one of us play in person. It will be fun."

Kamoku's journey

Kamoku's family has never witnessed him play in college.

"My parents aren't really big travelers," Kamoku said. "I have too big of a family for them to travel. So they have to make sure everybody else in my family gets taken care of. They can't go all the way up there to see me play, and leave my other four brothers and two sisters back home."

Who will be in attendance Friday?

"From what I know, mom, dad, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles," Kamoku said. "Just the works. Everyone's going to come and see me play for the first time.

"My dad mainly, he's coming. He's always wanted to see his son play college football. This is going to be his first time ever."

A two-way star as a senior at Kealakehe High School, Hawaii made a strong push for Kamoku, who said Hawaiians take great pride in their football team.

"Aloha Stadium is one of the historical landmarks for Hawaiians," he said. "… I know, like my island, we look at University of Hawaii football like we want to go there…

"I took a recruiting trip here, a University of Hawaii trip. It's a really good school, really good program. June Jones… (is a) great coach."

Kamoku, though, chose to attend Wisconsin, originally to pursue a degree in architectural engineering.

"(Wisconsin) had a really good school in architectural engineering," Kamoku said. "So I decided to go there because I was looking more towards both aspects. Like football and education and trying to even it out. So I made the decision to go out of island because I thought my education was better."

Kamoku's academic interest changed when he reached Madison; he is majoring in political science and history and plans to attend law school.

His wardrobe also changed.

In December 2002, Kamoku left the Hawaiian islands for the first time in his life to take an official visit to the UW-Madison campus.

"They said it was a mild winter and it was just 30-something degrees," Kamoku said with a smile. "And I had (on) surf shorts and I walked out in a tank top."

The memory still makes Kamoku shiver.

"I brought one pair of pants because I don't really have pants," Kamoku said. "This is Hawaii. I mean who buys pants, unless you work construction?"

When he enrolled at UW-Madison the following summer, his parents had stocked him up with jeans and a pair of boots.

"Got to get used to falling down in the snow," Kamoku said. "Everybody does it."

The choice to travel so far from home to attend college, especially since he had so little experience away from his family, was a difficult one for Kamoku and his parents.

"My mom felt like she wanted me to stay home," Kamoku said. "Like every other mom, she didn't want me to leave. And my dad felt like I could do the challenge. Like I could stand up to that challenge. And if I can stand up to that challenge, and play through that adversity, especially with the weather and everything, change of environments, culture shock, then I'll be able to put up with anything in life."

That first year away from home was tough on Kamoku.

"Just that adversity problem you got to deal with," he said. "… There's problems in life you got to push through it. Like everything's not going to be a smooth ride through…

"After that first year I slowly started getting a groove into it and really just settling in. It started working out really nice."

Kamoku redshirted in 2003 and earned a spot on most of the special teams last season. He is a reserve strong safety and one of the Badgers best special teams performers.

"I'm trying to get still used to the speed of the game and still get used to like playing football and thinking at that speed," he said. "And right now it's really good playing special teams. It's helping out a lot."

Kamoku is excited to be home this week and proud of how well he has adapted to life in Madison.

"I'm really happy with the decision I made," Kamoku said. "Right now I just got to take it and run with it and see where I end up."

Latest in line

Raiola also had to make the decision to leave Hawaii.

"I thought about (playing at Hawaii). It would be nice staying close to family and for them to be able to come (to games)," Raiola said. "But just wanted to get away for a little bit."

Unlike Kamoku, Raiola was following a beaten path to college football success.

Tony Raiola, Donovan's father, played for the University of Miami. Dominic Raiola was an All-American at Nebraska.

Donovan Raiola's career has included honorable mention All-Big Ten honors this season and last.

Tony Raiola always pushed his sons to succeed on the football field, Donovan said.

"I wouldn't say that he was hard on us, but he's pushed us to do our best in everything and work as hard as we can," Donovan Raiola said. "He's pretty proud right now."

In addition to the Raiolas, Hawaii also lays claim to their close family friend, Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz.

"Growing up we never thought that it would turn out this way," Raiola said. "I just followed in their footsteps. My brother kind of followed in Olin's footsteps.

"… When we're little kids we'd do the things kids do. Play videogames and basically just hang out. And we never knew this is where it would lead us. It will be pretty cool if I get a shot to play at the next level and all three of us can hopefully play each other's teams."

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