Honolulu is a long way from Lincoln, Neb.
Dominic Raiola knew that when he came to the University of Nebraska in 1997.
A star at Honolulu's famed St. Louis High School, Raiola was the first-ever Hawaiian native to get a football scholarship with the Cornhuskers.
Let's face it: Sunbathing in southeast Nebraska can't hold a candle to Waikiki Beach. But then again, for a prep football star, the Aloha State has nothing that screams pigskin tradition like the 70,000 raucous fans in a sea of red at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska and football go together like Hawaii and luaus.
That is the reason he came to Lincoln.
"It was a big change for me coming to Nebraska," Raiola admits. "I had to get used to not having something to do. But I came to Lincoln for two things — school and football."
He did well in both.
Raiola anchored the Big Red's front five the last two years. He finished his junior season with consensus All-America honors and was a finalists for both the Lombardi and Outland Trophies. He also was an All-Big 12 academic pick.
His memories on and off the field at Nebraska are the main reasons leaving school after his junior season to enter the NFL draft was a tough choice.
"Without question, this was by far the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I have gotten so attached to this university," Raiola said after announcing he would forgo his senior year.
The 6-foot-2, 302-pounder is considered to be the top draft prospect at the center position. His mobility and strength have scouts and coaches talking first-round pick.
"Along the offensive line, the center position usually doesn't get a lot of talk," said ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper. "Dominic Raiola remains the top pivot man in the draft after his fine showing (at the combine)."
There is no doubt that he can plow huge holes for running backs. But coming from Nebraska's run-oriented offense, there has been some questions about Raiola's pass-blocking abilites.
He sees those doubts as a challenge.
"I was told that my pass blocking was the main thing I need to work on," Raiola said. "It's a challenge, but I love challenges. I thrive on pressure."
Raiola hasn't taken much stock in what some print or Internet scouting publications have said about him. Instead, even though he is so many miles from his home, he finds comfort and advice from those who know him best.
"I watch (Chicago Bears center) Olin Kreutz a lot," Raiola said. "I know him from back home and he has the type of game I like. He has such a great intensity and that's the way I play."
Raiola will spend his final month before draft day in Lincoln, working out and killing time with his PlayStation. And in the brisk days of early spring he plans on soaking up as much of the experience as he can.
"To me it's a mirage," he said. " Right now it's like I'm living in a dream."