Opportunity knocks, and Jackie Johnson leaps to open that door.
The Roosevelt two-sport athlete is a catcher on the baseball field and a defensive lineman for the Rough Riders football squad. At 5 feet, 10 inches and 220 pounds, he’s a powerful hitter at the plate. On the football field, his explosiveness and technique are honed after constant workouts through the offseason with the Trench Dawgz, a collection of linemen from across Honolulu.
With the high school football season in Hawaii postponed until early 2021, Johnson is one of more than 60 committed players who will travel to Hurricane, Utah, for the PTP National College Showcase Camp on Oct. 30-31. Hurricane is roughly a two-hour drive from Las Vegas.
“I was part of Roosevelt’s 7v7 team when we competed in a tournament in Utah,” Johnson said.
Johnson is a senior who is also a catcher on the Rough Riders baseball team. He played at St. Francis before the school shut its doors in 2019.
“This is an opportunity,” said Nate Kia, who is helping PTP organize the camp. “We still don’t know if they’ll be able to practice their craft. It’s not a training, skills thing. It’s not a prep class. It’s 7v7s, 1v1s, controlled 11s. Generate film. Live stream. Available to everybody.”
Also invited to the event are Kaeo Akana (Roosevelt), Iapani “Poncho” Laloulu (Farrington), JayDee Pookela Kahawai (Saint Louis), Blaze Kamoku (Kamehameha), and many more.
Kamoku is a 5-7, 160-pound receiver with a 3.95 grade-point average.
“We’re finally being able to get some work in competing, not only with other players (in Hawaii), but players from other states,” said Kamoku, a junior.
Coach Kia said he has commitments from Eli Matagi Thompson and Jonah Henry of Punahou, and Kona Moore and Anthony Sagapolutele of Saint Louis.
Akana, a 6-4, 205-pound defensive end, has six scholarship offers.
“I am planning on going. The thing that makes this appealing is it’s football right now. It’s the only football being offered,” said Akana, who will travel with his father, former St. Francis coach Kip Akana.
Kia is helping PTP organize. Hawaii will send three teams to the camp.
“The target is for states with serious football players who might not have film or any work for recruiters to see aside from drills in the sand. That might work for guys who have strong (game) film, but for players who would have this year to shine, it’s in jeopardy because of COVID-19. If their season is pushed back to the spring, this is an opportunity for them,” said Kia, who is also an assistant coach at Punahou.
The cost, he added, will be moderate with round-trip flights at a discount now. Kia’s non-profit organization, Highlight Academy, worked with PTP to achieve a discounted fee for each of the Hawaii participants.
Though college coaches will not be permitted to attend the camp, there will be video and streaming access.
“It’s one thing for DBs, wide receivers and quarterbacks, but what Hawaii produces is a lot of guys who play in the box,” said Kia, whose son, Kahanu, will attend the camp. Kahanu Kia, a Punahou linebacker, has 15 offers, but like many other island athletes, the lure to compete is irresistible. Especially in a fully-padded camp, helmet to toe. The major benefit, however, is for players who don’t have any scholarship offers yet.
“It’s really hard to assess without having this. It’s like a camp we would have in the summer, but in October,” Kia said.
Putting the pieces together for three teams will be interesting.
“It’s five receivers per team max. After that it’s wait list. We have two offenses and 2.5 defenses. It’s more even, more about parts. Can’t have three middle linebackers (on one defense). Some guys need more reps. Some guys don’t,” Kia said. “There are natural synergies. If we have nine players from Kamehameha, 10 from Punahou and 10 from Saint Louis and so on, you kind of want to keep them together.”
Utah has been able to operate high school football this fall with protocols.
“I lived in Utah almost 10 years having gone there and coached there,” said Kia, who played for the Utah Utes. “It’s a really organized place, so when it was shut down, they made sure they have everything figured out. A big place with a lot of capacity. We’re lucky to get fields there.”
Now, he hopes parks in Hawaii can open at some point.