HONOLULU Leaving his Hawaiian home was the most difficult experience of Jeremy Ioanes life.
Returning this week, as a sophomore safety for the Boise State football team, could be one of the biggest thrills.
Ioane, who grew up in Honolulu, has blossomed as a player and teammate in his third year in Boise. He finally feels comfortable with his surroundings and it shows in his standout play.
Hell compete against Hawaii in front of family and friends at Aloha Stadium.
Hes been here for a while and now hes played a lot of football this year, Boise State coach Chris Petersen said. Weve always felt like he had this in him and I still think he has more in him.
Ioane (5-foot-10, 197 pounds) ranks second on the team with 48 tackles and two interceptions. He returned one pick 43 yards for a touchdown in the season opener at Michigan State, with his parents in the stands.
He also has provided a physical edge at strong safety the position where Jeron Johnson starred from 2007 to 2010.
Hes brought a lot of toughness to our defense, defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. We have a lot of defenses where hes free and he can come down and put some hits on people, which hes done. The guys love him because hes a physical football player and guys respect that.
That physicality starts at home, which is never far from Ioanes mind. He has two brothers and three sisters including a twin sister and grew up surrounded by relatives.
He has a large tattoo on his right arm and chest that includes his last name and serves as a tribute to family.
Wed spend every moment we had with each other, he said.
His dad and three uncles played football, though not at the college level. They played for the same youth team as Ioane and it was those four who taught him football.
The natural instinct, the killer instinct, is what I pretty much learned from them, said Ioane, whose younger brother Jacob plays at the University of San Diego. My dad, his side of the family is just aggressive as hell.
Ioane (pronounced ee-oh-AH-nay) also played baseball helping Punahou win four high school state championships as an outfielder.
Football just fit him better.
As a junior, he played linebacker for Punahous state championship team alongside Notre Dame star and Heisman Trophy candidate Manti Teo.
Football, I liked the aggressiveness to it, Ioane said. When you get mad or angry, you can actually do something about it.
Ioanes hard-hitting style, which generated buzz on YouTube, attracted heavy-duty recruiting interest. He could have stayed home to play college football, but his mom encouraged him to leave.
Everyone back home, thats always in the back of their head they dont want to leave the island, Ioane said. My mom was the one who kind of forced me off. She said, Youve got to leave this place and go experience new things. I was like, OK.
He visited Boise State, Notre Dame and Washington.
His mom wanted him to choose Notre Dame Ioanes close friend, wide receiver Robby Toma, is there, too but he didnt like the culture or the distance from home.
Ioane signed with Boise State instead. He didnt declare his intentions until Signing Day.
We kind of felt like we had a connection with him, Petersen said.
Ioane arrived in summer 2010 and redshirted. The strong safety spot was open in 2011, but he wasnt ready to seize it. He started the opener against Georgia in place of suspended Cedric Febis but didnt finish the game or start again.
In addition to learning to play college football, Ioane still wasnt comfortable.
My first summer was the hardest thing Ive faced in my life, he said. Just being away from family, kind of starting life over again, building new relationships.
The hardest part, I guess, was coming out of my shell. I wasnt comfortable doing anything with the team.
Said Petersen: Thats a really touchy dynamic when somebody comes here. Some guys try to fit in too fast and its awkward. And some people, its so different than their high school, where theyre from, and they hold back. Until you get that right balance of really opening your heart to this place, and wanting to do things like we want them done and to be coached like we want to coach guys when guys can flip that switch, it starts to really happen for them.
Sophomore linebacker Travis Saxton of Star became friends with Ioane that first year. He spent two weeks in summer 2011 on Oahu with Ioane, seeing firsthand what he left behind the weather, beaches, boogie boarding, rock jumping and inseparable family members.
Most people go to Hawaii and they dont see the real culture, Saxton said. Theyre not around the real people. Theyre so tight. Theyre close-knit people and they care for each other. He moved from a place where everyone cares about you and everyone will do anything for you.
Ioane sensed similar traits in the Boise State locker room thats why he chose the Broncos and toward the end of last season began to feel at ease.
He also clicked with Lake, who joined the staff this year.
Hes focused so much more, Saxton said. Hes more serious about football.
That focus will be tested Saturday, as Ioane tries to harness the emotion of his homecoming. Lake anticipates the right mix of energy and composure.
Itll mean a lot, Ioane said. Im definitely looking forward to it.
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat