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.
Pookela Bo Pruett
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.”