GLORY DAYS: Coach Darren Johnson and the 2019 Campbell Sabers


This summer, head coaches from all 28 Oahu high school varsity football teams are being asked to recount their football playing days.

One coach who has already been interviewed for this multi-part series pointed out what he thinks may be the value of this endeavor:

“A lot of times, you only hear about coaches when they’re getting released or are having a special season. It’s super hard to have a special season, so this should shed more light on them as people and their journey of when they were student-athletes. It’s going to bring more respect to the people who are doing this job. They didn’t all of a sudden become a high school coach because they coached Pop Warner. These guys have gone through it all, they’ve run the gamut of experiences.”

Some made it to the NFL. Others went to big colleges. Still others went the small-college route. They started as young’uns and got the bug, falling in love with football and taking pride in passing on their knowledge.

Along with the coaches’ look-back at their football-playing pasts, they also give their outlook on where their programs are at heading into the 2019 season.

Campbell’s Darren Johnson has coached a team to the state tournament in the Open Division, Division I and Division II. Photo by Cindy Ellen Russell / Honolulu Star-Advertiser.



Growing up in Laie, Darren Johnson played baseball and basketball and ran track, but football was the magnet drawing him in.

“I was lucky I’m from Laie and football has always been part of my life,” he said.

In Pop Warner days, he played for his father, Warren Johnson Sr., for the Koolauloa Red Raiders. He was a running back first.

“And then I ended up being a quarterback,” he said. “They moved me there and I went with it. I always liked running the ball.”

As a senior in high school at Kahuku in the fall of 1982, Johnson played wide receiver and moved to quarterback when starter Lane Santiago got hurt.

“I thought I wanted to play D going to college, but I ended up playing wide receiver,” said Johnson, who friends call DJ, about his time at Arizona Western and the University of Akron.

Johnson was a junior college All-American coming out of Arizona Western, but an injury-plagued senior year at Akron ended his playing career.

“The only thing I compiled (senior year) was concussions,” he said. “I had 13. That’s how many times I was seeing stars and they would take me out.”

After college, Johnson coached one year each at Arizona Western and Rocky Mountain College in Montana. From there, he was the offensive coordinator at Kahuku from 1991 to 1995 before taking the Kailua head coaching job that lasted from 1996 to 2003. He spent some years at the Pop Warner and Big Boyz levels mixed in with the head job at Kaimuki (2007-08), his second stint as Kahuku’s offensive coordinator (2010 through ’13), and as the offensive coordinator at Kapolei (2014).

He’s starting his third season as the head man with the Sabers.

Kahuku’s Darren Johnson got flushed from the pocket and taken down against Waianae on Nov. 19, 1982. The Searaiders beat the Red Raiders 17-0 at Aloha Stadium in the OIA title game, avenging a loss to Kahuku earlier in the season. Photo by Dennis Oda / Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Johnson’s biggest moment during his playing days came his senior year, when the Red Raiders beat Waianae 29-15 in the regular season.

“Beating Waianae back in the day was real big,” Johnson said. “Lane got hurt, I moved in at quarterback and marched us and we took it in on a fourth and 1. We gambled and went for it.”

He took much from his dad throughout his career.

“He taught me how to win, no matter what,” DJ said. “He was the one who first told me that you don’t quit, you don’t ever give up and you always finish what you start. And if you have the ball in your hands at the end of the game (and it’s close), you still have a chance.

“For me, it took hard work and determination and I always wanted to give my best and to not give anything less than the game deserved.”

As for the 2019 version of the Sabers, Johnson opened up.

“What we’re looking for is to progress, to be better than last year,” he said. “You are only as good as your last play. We didn’t play good on our last play. We played good enough to win that game (a 24-2 loss to Mililani in the state Open semifinals). I don’t mean just talking about it, but actually doing it.

“We want to be faster on defense and the offense understands we want to run the ball, and we want to show that we can run it or throw it at any time.”

Campbell’s Blaine Hipa was called up late in the season last year as a freshman and is one of the reasons expectations are high in Ewa Beach. Photo by George F. Lee / Honolulu Star-Advertiser.


>> 2018 record and finish: 8-5 (4-1 OIA Open); lost to Kahuku 27-7 in first round of OIA Open playoffs; defeated Farrington 42-26 in OIA Open third-place game; lost to Mililani 24-2 in semifinals of Open state tournament.

>> Head coach Darren Johnson’s staff:
— Jaymason Lee (offensive coordinator)
— Jarrod Lee (head JV coach, varsity quarterbacks and wide receivers)
— Tai Utoafili (offensive line)
— Keoni Fontanilla (offensive line)
— Shane Masaniai (wide receivers)
— Warren Johnson Jr. (wide receivers)
— Kimo Alo (running backs)
— Sam Vaoifi (running backs)
— Kelii Tilton (quarterbacks)
— Blaze Soares (defensive coordinator)
— Tyrone Alualu (defensive line)
— Kui Alimoot (defensive line)
>> Kimo Kopakaawalauole (defensive line)
— Kaikoa Kinoshita (linebackers and defensive backs)
— Derek Mailau (defensive backs)
— Kawe Johnson (spotter)

>> Approximate varsity and JV numbers: 60 varsity, 55 JV

>> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections returning: Titus Mokiao-Atimalala (first-team receiver, second-team returner), Sky Lactaoen (second-team running back), Poki’i Adkins-Kupukaa (second-team defensive back), Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala (third-team cornerback)

>> Honolulu Star-Advertiser All-State selections lost to graduation: Sir-Wallace Chanel (third-team offensive lineman)

>> Players with Division I FBS college offers: Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala (Sr., WR/DB, 5-9, 170, committed to Hawaii); Poki’i Adkins-Kupukaa (Sr., WR/DB, 6-0, 175); JL Lavea (Sr., DE/LB, 6-1, 225); Tyrese Tafai (Sr., LB, 5-11, 205); Peter Manuma, (Jr., RB/DB, 6-0, 160); Titus Mokiao-Atimalala (Jr., WR/DB, 6-1, 160).

>> Among other 2019 key returnees: Blaine Hipa, So., QB, 6-0, 170; Carson Murakami, So., CB, 5-10, 165; Kaipo Enos-Ho, Sr., DB, 5-6, 145; Chasen Torres, Sr., RB, 5-8, 165; Zavier Ceruti, Sr., WR, 6-1, 150; Lyrik Beleras, Sr., OL, 6-2, 315.

>> All-time state championships: 1 (2004, D-II)

>> All-time Prep Bowl (1973-1998) championships: None

>> All-time OIA championships: 2 (2004, D-II; 2008, D-II)

>> 2019 conference: OIA Open

Campbell’s Titus Mokiao-Atimalala caught the winning touchdown pass in a victory over Kamehameha in 2018. Photo by Darryl Oumi / Special to the Star-Advertiser.



Part Two: Coach John Hao and the 2019 Castle Knights


  1. Northshore June 21, 2019 12:16 pm

    Sure like to draw attention during game day with his bright, huge lettering shirt and besides that, he’s the only one wearing that outfit. Be professional and dress as a professional coach with the rest of his staff. As an example; St Louis coaching staff are dressed conservatively and doesn’t need to draw attention to their dress code. It’s the same way with NFL coaches and top college coaching staff.

  2. ahinalu June 21, 2019 12:17 pm

    DJ is the Real Deal.

  3. coconut wireless June 21, 2019 12:44 pm

    thats what they said when he was at Kailua and Kaimuki too till he moved on.

  4. CryHwn June 23, 2019 6:18 pm

    As example, St.Louis coaching leaves the field without excepting the 2015 second place trophy and post handshake. Talk about drawing attention NS.

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