For Sione Tau, who has toiled in the Colorado football program for four years without getting on the field, the Buffaloes' road trip to Hawaii this weekend is a fitting chance to earn his first college playing time in his hometown of Honolulu.
All five of the Buffs from the state of Hawaii get to make the trip for Saturday's 8:15 p.m. game against the Warriors, an extra special occasion for the latest group of players to become part of the CU pipeline from the islands.
A quick scan of the CU media guide yields at least 19 former CU lettermen who hailed from Hawaii, including 11 in the last two decades -- players like Jordon Dizon and ChrisNaeole. Not bad considering the state's small population and isolation from the U.S. mainland.
But few have had chances to play at home in front of friends and family. The Buffs have played at Hawaii only once, after the 1924 season. They've made two Aloha Bowl appearances, in 1993 and 1998.
"It's big to get those kids back home first off because obviously they only get home a few times a year," first-year CU head coach Jon Embree said at his first Tuesday media luncheon of the season. "And I think it's important that we kind of become that second team on the island. We have (linebackers coach) Brian Cabral, (defensive line coach) Mike Tuiasosopo, who obviously have connections and ties to the island.
"That was the cool thing about going back there for the Aloha bowls (as a CU assistant coach in the 1990s) is there seemed to be a lot of locals there who were Buff fans."
Three of this season's Hawaiian Buffs are offensive linemen -- Tau, Crabb and true freshman Paulay Asiata. True freshmen Parker and K.T. Tu'umalo are linebackers.
None are atop the depth chart at their respective positions, but all are high enough that they at least have a shot to see some playing time, whether at their normal spots or on special teams.
"I'm just happy that I made the traveling squad," said the 6-foot-5, 295-pound Asiata, who is listed second at left guard.
The trip could turn out to be sweetest for Tau (6-5, 350), a fifth-year senior whose career at CU has been a roller coaster ride.
Ranked the 33rd-best tackle in the country coming out of high school, Tau redshirted as a freshman and figured to compete for a starting job the next year in 2008 before becoming academically ineligible. In the spring of 2009, he was once again battling for a starting spot when an unspecified violation of team rules earned him a suspension for his redshirt sophomore year.
Tau sat out the 2009 season, not even allowed on campus. But, determined to earn reinstatement to the team, he stayed in Boulder working out and working part-time jobs around town. He admits it was hard to stay motivated at times in the year away, not to mention difficult to watch his teammates play every Saturday without him.
Having satisfied conditions for reinstatement, Tau re-joined the team last season but didn't play a down as All-American Nate Solder's backup at left tackle.
On the verge of graduating next May with a sociology degree, Tau believes it's finally his time to help the team, though he is listed second at right guard behind another All-American candidate in Ryan Miller.
"It's been a rough road here in Colorado," Tau said. "But as a person, maturing into the person I am today, I think I've grown a lot based on all the experiences I've been through here."
Tau said he's appreciative of the new coaching staff for giving him an honest chance to prove himself this season in spite of his history.
"(Offensive line coach Steve Marshall) pulled me aside and told me straight up, 'I really don't care about your past. It's about what you do your last year here,'" Tau said. "That motivated me to get better."
For the rest of the CU Hawaiians, Saturday's trip is one they hope is merely the tipping point for long successful careers. But the game wasn't a major reason most of them chose to attend Colorado.
Crabb said he didn't even know the Buffs had a game scheduled at Hawaii while he was being recruited two years ago until after he'd verbally committed to CU.
"After I found out we were going to play them, I was stoked," Crabb said.
Crabb said the Hawaii players have a special bond.
Part of that stems from the fact that they are so far from home yet share common life experiences. Part of it is they know they are connected to a tradition of players coming to CU from their home state.
Cabral -- a founding member of the Polynesian Coaches Association who grew up in Kailua, Hawaii -- played for the Buffs in the mid-1970s and has coached at CU for 23 years, giving the team a decades-long recruiting connection to Hawaii.
Parker and Asiata both played at St. Louis High School in Honolulu, where Cabral is a legendary alum.
"He's a big part of St. Louis," Asiata said.
For Crabb and Tau, Saturday's game will likely mark their only chance to play in Honolulu. If any of the true freshmen redshirt at any point, however, they'll get to go back for the 2015 season opener.
The Buffs have another home and home series scheduled with the Warriors for 2014-15, with the first game being played in Boulder. Scheduling a series with Hawaii every four years was an idea of former coach Dan Hawkins' -- and one Embree supports -- to give CU's players from the state a chance to play at home in front of family at least once.
The idea is one the players appreciate. But they also know they can't get too caught up in the home cooking.
"We're headed home but we're going to be the enemy," Crabb said. "So it's a business trip for us."