Kawe Johnson’s TMF Elite places 3rd out of 122 teams at Pylon ‘Mecca’

TMF Elite of Hawaii placed third in the Pylon 7v7 "The Mecca" tournament, high school division, at Mesquite, Nev. over the weekend. Photo courtesy of TMF Elite.

Third place out of 122 teams.

Not bad at all. TMF Elite of Hawaii, coached by Kahuku alum and former All-State player of the year Kawe Johnson, advanced all the way to the semifinal round of the Pylon 7v7’s “The Mecca” tournament before losing to eventual champion The Grind (Dallas, Texas).

TMF opened the tourney on Saturday with an 8 a.m. battle, defeating KT Prep Greatness 25-12. Thirty minutes later, TMF downed SOCAL Playmakers 26-13. At 9 a.m., TMF met NW Wolfpack HS and won 27-8.

In Sunday’s elimination games, TMF met the Saints at 2 p.m. and prevailed 34-22. After defeating High Intensity 26-13, TMF met another team based out of Kahuku, Rebel Squad, and won 20-19.

In the quarterfinal round, TMF defeated EForce Oregon Breed 27-13. Team Grind Black of Dallas, Texas, eliminated TMF 41-12 and went on to capture the tournament title.

TMF — Team Makes Family — brought a roster of mostly Kahuku players combined with a few from Punahou and Kamehameha to Mesquite, Nev. The roster was comprised almost entirely of sophomores and freshmen. The two juniors were Titan Rodrigues and Kilinahe Mendiola-Jensen.

TMF roster
Tausili Akana
Nalu Cordeiro
Kama Espenda
Pokai Haunga
Wahi Emmsley
Chansen Garcia
Daniel Kaio
Kruze Keanu
Malu Keo
Kilinahe Mendiola-Jensen
Kekai Nakaahiki-Bourgeois
Cole Pruett
Pookela Bo Pruett
Titan Rodrigues
Tyson Rodrigues
John-Keawe Sagapolutele
Ean Waikiki

Johnson estimated there were roughly 30 Hawaii teams at the tournament, including Rebel Squad (Kahuku) and Beast 808 (Campbell). Rebel Squad was quarterbacked by former TMF quarterback Waika Carvalho. Beast 808 is coached by Kawe’s dad and Campbell head coach Darren Johnson.

Sagapolutele had a standout season as a freshman starter at Punahou. Johnson’s background as a former all-state defensive player of the year who also played quarterback, as well as his experience as a defensive back at New Mexico State, makes him a unique fit in this format.

“We played three games first day (Saturday), then four or five games on the second day. All my guys played receiver. I had four go-to guys. If one guy was covered, I had 3 other routes,” Johnson said.

The key contributors on offense were Pruett (Kahuku), Kaio (Kahuku), Haunga (Kamehameha), Waikiki (Punahou), Espinda (Pac-Five) and Cordeiro (Saint Louis).

“These are all guys that I train on a consistent basis,” Johnson said. “We had check down routes, everything. Someone was open all the time. John-Keawe has worked out with them a few teams even before we put the team together.”

Defensively, the starting unit was mostly Kahuku or Kahuku-based.

“Akana (Kamehameha) played the mike. Emmsley was the nickel outside linebacker. Garcia was at free safety. He’s a speed guy, flat out speed,” Johnson noted. “Mendiola-Jensen (Punahou) played one corner. Titan Rodrigues other corner. Malu Keo was the opposite safety. Kruze Keanu was at linebacker. In three, four games he came up with interceptions.”

There was nothing to lose, Johnson said, for a young team.

“Everything, from the first day, these are all kids who have something to prove. We have all underclassmen. Our two juniors the corners, but every kid had something to prove. Either they’re not starters at their own schools or trying to make a name for themselves. I use Pylon as a way for these kids to under stand their position better. The wins come with learning how to play football together, learning how to be physical. Just be ballers,” Johnson said. “Our guys played smart football, played within their abilities. We tried to keep the game within their hands, don’t overdo it, play fast, physical and smart and they’ll accomplish things.”

After getting past Rebel Squad, TMF had a very memorable win over at talented team from Washington state.

“Dudes who are D-I bound. Kids who are built like they’re at college level. Talking all kinds of trash even before the game. I could tell on every kid’s face on my team, they were ready to roll. It was hard to stop our group, we made big time plays on defense too,” Johnson said.

The Grind, a team loaded with five- and four-star prospects, was special.

“I told them when we play teams bigger and faster, we have to play smarter and stay one step ahead. Once a team like that gets ahead, it’s hard. But they all got the experience, seeing how fast the game is at the next level. I believe all of our guys will be playing at the next level,” Johnson said. “The dudes from Florida, Texas, Georgia, they’re a different breed.”

There were too many players who stepped up to single one out.

“Most improved? It’s all of them. Every single one of them caught my eye on how they improved. There’s not one person I can pinpoint. They all made plays when they needed to,” Johnson said.

Johnson coached with his father at Campbell as an assistant, but stepped down before the 2019 season.

“I took a break. I wanted to get more training sessions with athletes around the state,” said Johnson, who is just 26 and still wheels across the field. “Oh yeah, I’m still running around with the boys. I can demonstrate everything.”

Now married with a daughter, Adele, Johnson’s vision is to continue training athletes.

“In the future, hopefully, I’ll own my own training facility, hopefully in Hawaii, but we’ll see. See these athletes training hard, getting to the next level,” he said.

Returning to high school football as a coach is not in his vision.

“I don’t want to coach football (at the high school level). My dad has begged me to come back. I coached two years, and it’s a lot more stressful than anyone knows. At a young age, I don’t want to go through that. I enjoy training our guys year-round. You’ve got to make every offseason workout (in high school), spending time away from family,” Johnson said. “The whole point was to spend time with my family. I can take my daughter to the workouts.”


  1. HailFromDaNorth February 28, 2020 3:43 pm

    Talented group of kids!! Cole Pruett! I would love to see that kid on a squad with an air attack or run and shoot, kid is gonna be somebody, too bad Kahuku rarely throws. Also Chansen Garcia at safety!! That kid is the real deal!! Hopefully they utilize him right when he goes to varsity. Cuz I’ve seen this kid at camps and stuff and wow! Wish I seen him more at safety when he played JV at Kahuku.

  2. HAMMAH UNION February 29, 2020 2:56 am

    Big CONGRATS to Coach Kawe, his ohana, the TMF Elite coaching staff and athletes. Job well done. You guys definitely made a statement, especially to the trash talkers. TMF Elite training is battle tested and proven. HIGHLY RECOMMEND and rated 5 stars…..

  3. Fan February 29, 2020 5:35 am

    TMF is Together Makes Family.
    Good job coaches and players. Akana and Mendiola-Jensen stood out on D. John will be really good. He has a bright future. Can’t take anything away from all you players on TMF. Good job, looking to see you all play for your school.

  4. RedZone February 29, 2020 8:53 am

    We see Kawe out there training these boys down at kakela beach park, and also has QB coach Tilton out there training the Kahuku QB’s. Hoping this is true, but I hear Kawe coming back to coach kahuku and the package deal is to bring Coach Tilton too. Those 2 can change the game here at kahuku and does this mean we eventually get DJ to come home too?????

  5. HI HS FAN February 29, 2020 9:45 am

    Hopefully, someday, Kawe will become a coach. His ability to each, communicate, motivate, and mentor young men proves that he’ll be a great coach someday. The respect he has from these boys are immeasurable. The boys that have trained and coached by him has seen the character that made Kawe a successful athlete in high school. He proved and demonstrated that physical size and stature can’t measure the size of his heart. That is what he brings to the athletes he trains.

  6. RedZone February 29, 2020 9:56 am

    John Sagapolutele is a beast, bring him to kahuku!!!

  7. Cmon Boys February 29, 2020 2:33 pm

    Hopefully this carries into season. I’m not sure I see flag football as being incredibly helpful. Maybe for defensive pass coverage but it doesn’t help a QB, or receivers prepare for a defense. It didn’t seem to help Campbell to not get smashed in the mouth from Kahuku or STL last season.

  8. For the boys February 29, 2020 7:13 pm

    Hopefully these boys come out swinging for actual football season.

  9. HAMMAH UNION March 1, 2020 10:06 am

    Hopefully, the Kahuku coaches will utilize these athletes. But, knowing the kahuku coaches, they’ll probably have Pruett and Garcia play o-line and bench the rest.

  10. Born&raised ILH March 1, 2020 9:15 pm

    I think if they not going use the boys let them know so they can go else where to get the exposure. You know Kahuku is a running team and they have some talent on the passing game that they don’t utilize. Let the boys know with no hard feelings and let them go get recognized at another school. It’s to bad but it’s wasted talent!!

  11. Busta March 2, 2020 6:48 am

    Da sly mongoose iz STILL DA MAN

  12. Good Story March 3, 2020 2:02 pm

    @B&R ILH
    “Let them go…”???
    Nobody holding them back. They are free to do whatever they want.

  13. RealTalk March 4, 2020 7:42 am

    @good story

    Those boys wanna stay because they wanna stay home and represent! But we all know that they don’t get their fair shake when it comes to those things. They have no passing game. And favoritisms espically at the JV level where sola has control. And of course It ain’t about the best kid plays, it’s about what city you from. Kahuku really gotta make big changes!

  14. Cmon boys March 4, 2020 2:44 pm

    I agree with Good Story, you like jam, then Jam! #Nextmanup.


    Unfortunately arm chair coaches (myself included) may think that this person is better than that person but it’s the coach’s responsibility to put together the best TEAM.

    What’s real about this talk is JV lost in their championship against a good Mililani team. The Varsity team won OIAs and lost against a incredibly good St. Louis team.

    So why all the hate toward coaching and how things need to change? Both JV and Varsity are consistently battling for their titles year in and year out.

    If you ask me the weakness is in individual preparation. Make the grades, stay fit in the off season, go to camps, learn more about your craft (I’m speaking to would be collegiate athletes. Leave the whose better than who to the coach.

  15. Nick Asinsin March 4, 2020 9:26 pm

    TMF was top notch and very respectful. They played in the tourney with humbleness and honor. I was a coach for NW Wolfpack and I told my team that TMF is something else from following Kawe on IG. Always proud to see boys from the island represent!!! #hawaiivsanybody

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