On a good day, Jackie Johnson III is on calm waters, reeling in lunch and dinner.
On a better day, he maneuvers past hulking trench men to make plays in the backfield. For months and years, Johnson has been diligently working on his skills as an interior defensive lineman. Pumping iron, running the streets of Pauoa Valley, engaged in hand-to-hand combat in pre-dawn workouts at the beach with his Trench Dawgz brothers.
Slowly, surely the interest level rose from potential college recruiters. Last week, Johnson committed to Lawrence Tech, a school located outside of Detroit, Mich., with an enrollment of 4,154. The Blue Devils compete in the NAIA’s Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference.
A school in the Midwest that educates future engineers took a liking to the islands in 2020. So much so, that they can’t seem to get enough of grit-and-grind linemen. With perseverance, Lawrence Tech landed one. They likely still want more. They were the first to offer Saint Louis defensive lineman Anthony Sagapolutele, who has not committed to any offers yet.
Johnson, though, is ready to pursue what is essentially the family business.
“They reached out to me with an offer around mid-2020 and we kept in contact. We finally got me to apply over there,” Johnson said.
The small, intensified and, frankly, expensive private colleges of the Northwest continue to have a pipeline to Hawaii. LTU is carving out a niche by offering a better financial package.
“I had interest from Pacific (Ore.), Linfield, Willamette. Lawrence Tech gave me a little more. Their engineering program definitely interests me. My dad (Jack Johnson Jr.) was an engineer in the Navy for 30 years. My papa (Jack Johnson Sr.), he worked at the Ford Motor Company. He just recently passed away,” the grandson said.
LTU is in Southfield, Mich. Roughly 50 miles away is Regina Johnson, Jackie’s grandmother.
“My grandma lives on Lake Erie. She’s so excited. That’s another reason I chose to go to Lawrence Tech. My dad grew up telling me about going perch fishing, walleye and stuff. He had a boat, him and my papa used to go,” he said.
For Johnson, the waters of Oahu’s shorelines will always be home. Lake Erie will be fresh and new, and probably more predictable.
“That’s the captain of the ship and the captain of the pack. He said he hears whales and the breach 10, 20 yards away,” Trench Dawgz Coach Whitley Fehoko said. “We were doing a hike at Makapuu and if you’re lucky you can see whales. Jackie goes out there as much as the fishermen. His dad gets rattled, and Jackie wants to venture further out.”
Lake Erie gets as low as 26 degrees in the winter. By July, it is a balmy 82 degrees.
“I’m down to try new things. Stream fishing would be exciting, but the fish would not at as big,” Johnson said.
He may get his chance to hook lake sturgeon, which can surpass 300 pounds. In the islands, Jackie and Jack Johnson had their go at monsters when they went billfishing.
“Swordfish, marlin. Me and my dad used to go, and the marlin would cut our line,” he recalled.
A few weeks ago, he reeled in a 50-pound wahoo, better known in the islands as ono. The fish, known as good eating, is fast, powerful and not exactly easy to bring in while sitting on a kayak.
“I started fishing when I was a kid. My dad got me a kayak. We used to fish on a two-person kayak, but now we branch out and we’re pretty separated. We get our bait and go cover more water,” Johnson said.
The ono went a long way on the dinner table.
“We ate that thing, we gave some away to friends. I like it raw with some shoyu. My mom (Ann Miho-Johnson) cooked it another night with some cilantro, ginger, the Chinese style,” he said. “Fish head soup, eat the eyeballs, the meat off the spine. Nothing goes to waste.”
Jack Johnson Jr. and son have their favorite sites.
“It’s kind of secret, but we go all around the island. It depends on the water temperature, the moon phases. We use an app,” Jackie Johnson III said.
Maybe dad and mom make the trek to blustery Lake Erie a time or two when Jackie arrives in Michigan. Watch him play the game he loves. Do some rod and reel on the big lake.
“I bet it’s going to be cold, I’ll have to buy some layers,” Jackie said.
His grandmother will have more company soon.
“I love being named after my dad and his dad,” Jackie said. “Powerful dudes.”
Baseball is fading from the picture, it seems. Johnson is a catcher with the Roosevelt Rough Riders, and the spring season is on the sports calendar despite the cancellation of fall and winter sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Baseball will always have a place in my heart, but when I’m focused on something, all my energy goes into it. It’ll be hard to divert it,” he said.
There’s always the possibility that the LTU baseball team might need more bodies. Catchers aren’t easy to find.
“I’d probably be down if they needed me. I’ve been working out with my Trench Dawgz. I haven’t been working out with baseball lately. I’ll probably get some cuts in, some balls thrown with Bubba (Akana), whoever wants to throw with me. We usually go down to Booth Park,” Johnson said.
Fehoko is up early every Sunday for the 5:30 a.m. grind. Johnson is one of the Dawgz who never misses a beat.
“From what he’s told me, the LTU coaches are really into the talent here in the 808. They understand a lot of kids here are overlooked and excel in other places,” Fehoko said. “Regardless of football, you’re going to have an awesome education and get an opportunity to explore and see the world. He still has that opportunity to put on the pads and get out there.”
Top 3 movies/shows
1. “Wicked Tuna” (Nat Geo).
2. “The 100″ (USA).
Top 3 food/snack/drink
1. Ahi. “I only eat fish I catch.”
2. Steak. “I learned how to cook it, but my dad cooks good. I like it medium, T-bone.”
3. Fried chicken. “I like it from Foodland.”
Top 3 music artists
1. Tupac – “All Eyez On Me”.
2. Biggie Smalls – “Who Shot Ya”.
3. Nate Dogg/Warren G – “Regulate”.
New life skill
“How to sanitize properly, work out and persevere through adversity.”
“To Coach Kui (Kahooilihala), Coach Jon (Kahooilihala), Coach Whit and Coach Kip (Akana).”