10TH IN A SERIES
Campbell football coach Darren Johnson said two striking things in a recent interview.
1. “The new OIA-ILH alliance’s Open Division might be the toughest league in America.”
2. Campbell has “zero players on academic probation for the second year in a row.”
The first one is possible, but hard to prove. The second one is an great accomplishment.
“It’s a tribute to our whole school,” said Johnson, who is starting his second season as the Sabers’ head coach. “It’s a tribute to the teachers and the administration. The faculty is in constant contact with us so we can keep kids on track. We have a tutorial system, and the teachers are there, giving extra time to help these kids.
“Everything wasn’t rosy and peachy. There were punishments until the kids got it right. You can’t be dumb and play football.”
On the field, Johnson is also looking for smarts.
“We’re going to stick to basics and make it simple, making sure the kids are running and playing and not over-thinking,” he said. “The coaches have done a real good job at that. We are making sure they understand what is expected and that they’re trying to up their (football) IQ — understanding the game, understanding their assignment, why there’s 11 guys who have 11 jobs to do.”
Johnson thinks it’s more important than ever that his players stay healthy throughout the course of the year, now that the Sabers are going to be playing against the best Hawaii offers week in and week out.
“It’s a dream conference,” he said. “Every week, you’ve got to be ready to battle. Everybody wants to be where Kahuku and Saint Louis are. They are the elite of the conference. They’re the Alabama and Georgia. The rest of us are going to battle, and good things can happen when you play those teams and the ball rolls your way.”
Campbell went 7-5 a year ago, winning playoff games against Castle (24-9) and Leilehua (10-6) before falling to Kahuku (45-6) in the OIA semifinals. The Sabers lost 29-21 to Waianae in the third-place game for a spot in the Open Division state tournament.
This season, Campbell opens with a nonleague game at home against Hilo on Aug. 3. The Sabers have a bye the following week before their inaugural game in the new OIA-ILH alliance Open Division on Aug. 18 against Farrington.
Johnson talked about some of the Sabers’ leaders:
>> Taelase Gaoteote, running back, linebacker: “He moved back here. Played for Sierra Vista in Las Vegas last year. Had cousins who played for Bishop Gorman. He’s a player. He leads on the field. He’ll be our starting mike linebacker.”
>> Tyrese Tafai, linebacker: “He’s already established as a team captain and a leader. Vocal, knowledgeable, listens, works hard. He’s coming off shoulder surgery. He played through pain and waited to have surgery after last season.”
>> Jeremiah Tauai, safety, defensive back, defensive end: “Runs well. He’s coming to hit you. A very good football player.”
>> Pokii Adkins-Kupukaa, defensive back, wide receiver: “I could talk for days about Pokii. He’s one of the best athletes I’ve been around. He can do it all. One of the best athletes in America.”
>> Sir-Wallace Chanel, offensive lineman: “We’re so happy to have him back to being on the offensive line. He’s one of our leaders, another one of our captains. He could have a great year on the O-line. He could play tackle for us. At 6-1, 275, he could end up as a center or guard in college. Last year, knee surgery cost him the whole year. It’s great to have him back full force.”
Johnson described wide receiver Jalen Henderson and the versatile Peter Manuma as “sleepers.”
“Henderson was hurt most of last year,” the coach said. “We think he’s going to do some big things this year. Manuma is a great athlete who is going to surprise a lot of people. He’s 6-1, 200, and he can play all over the place — safety, wide receiver, running back, quarterback.”
Two receivers, brothers Titus Mokiao-Atimalala and Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala, and a quarterback, Kaniala Kalaola, transferred over from Kapolei and Johnson expects them to add to the team in a big way.
Krenston Kaipo, last year’s starting quarterback, and Kalaola are vying for the starting job.
“Both bring good things to the table,” Johnson said. “They’re battling. It’s a good battle and having two is a good thing. Krenston is tough and a lot more poised this year. Kaniala has also made big strides.”
Next in series: Pearl City Chargers.