PREPPING for 2018: Campbell Sabers

Campbell's Tyrese Tafai is part of a stacked Sabers defense. Photo by Bruce Asato/Star-Advertiser.


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.”

Campbell’s Pokii Adkins-Kupukaa is one of the top juniors in the state this season. Photo by Darryl Oumi/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

>> 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.

• Aiea Na Alii
• Castle Knights
• Farrington Governors
• Kahuku Red Raiders
• Kaimuki Bulldogs
• Kaiser Cougars
• Leilehua Mules
• McKinley Tigers
• Nanakuli Golden Hawks


  1. AUSTIN Chang July 27, 2018 1:58 am

    Pretty much they were recruiting the whole off season, but still cannot beat Mililani, St. Louis, or Kahuku smh. Waste of Talent, I suggested if Krenston Kaipo gets benched, we should transfer to Leilehua, or Waipahu

  2. TooMeke July 27, 2018 6:46 am

    @AUSTIN – I mean they might as well not even play…RIGHT??? Just hang up their cleats and call it a day. Cuz it’s all about winning RIGHT?? Never mind player development both on and OFF the field. Who cares about that…RIGHT???

    I suggest you get a life. Idiot.

  3. AUSTIN Chang July 27, 2018 12:01 pm

    @TooMeke HEY it true, I know they care about winning and beating tough teams, but you need to think about the development players, there was a student that is senior now, never start in 4 years, why because the teams decided to recruit them instead of trusting their players that the issue, it a disadvantage. We understand they trying to win, but got dang it gave the students a try, it feel like people that are in the bench is not welcome to the team. I heard Hunter Copp transfer to Radford, cause he barely got on the field, that the stuff am taking about, this is my opinion, like Coach Johnson with Discipline, with players nah.

  4. saber2 July 27, 2018 12:37 pm

    Thats funny coach DJ only been there going on his 2nd season. prior to coach DJ getting to campbell, he had nothing to do with a player sitting on the bench. Players transfer all the time. so campbell should just play games and not try to win, and just let everyone play so they all feel good.

  5. anywaaaays!! July 27, 2018 2:24 pm

    as RRFL, would I be happy with a losing team as long as the kids are “developing on and off the field?” hell no. We fire football coaches that make it to the state finals because the standard in Red Raider country is like the oakland raiders: just win baby!

    we just don’t have to recruit to win, unlike st lulu, punahou, and now all the other OIA schools that want to recruit because they can’t beat us. Well, darren johnson, recruit all you like. at least maybe you can narrow our point spread over you guys. RRFL!

  6. 🤷🏽‍♂️🤷🏽‍♂️ south August 1, 2018 12:21 am

    Fawwwwwwwk everyone else #SABERNATION

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