Darren Johnson is a born-and-bred Red Raider.
He is also a football coach who has thrived in communities that love the game as much as he does. In his third season at Campbell, the Sabers have a blend of senior leadership and key underclassmen at quarterback and wide receiver. They have one of the most explosive offenses in the state.
In nine games, Campbell (5-4) has scored at least 21 points in every game but one, a seven-point output in a loss to Kahuku. The Sabers will make another 38-mile drive to the North Shore on Saturday with title dreams on the line.
Coach Johnson played and coached at Kahuku, where size and physicality are always crucial ingredients to success. Kahuku rushed for 431 yards in a 35-7 win over Campbell on Aug. 31. Johnson believes in a balanced offense, and that might turn out to be his most effective weapon against Kahuku’s smashmouth, ball-control attack.
Last year, Kahuku lost at Campbell during the regular season, then came back to Ewa Beach and knocked the Sabers out of the playoffs. Campbell would like to turn the tables and become a rarity. Opposing teams have gone 2-85 against the Red Raiders at Carleton E. Weimer Field since 2000.
Johnson, who has a career win-loss record of 93-49-1 (.654), chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Thursday morning.
HPW: At this point of the season, teams are either reinvigorated or fatigued.
Johnson: It’s a new season so you’ve got to be energized for what’s ahead of you.
HPW: You’ve got some key players back with linebacker Tyrese Tafai and safety/wide receiver Poki‘i Adkins-Kupukaa. Poki‘i had toe surgery and I hear he returned.
Johnson: Pokii played in the Kamehameha game. He did real well. We were hoping he just gets better as the season goes.
HPW: I bet he would’ve come back sooner if not for an experienced coaching staff, experienced trainers.
Johnson: He wanted to play earlier. He didn’t even want to acknowledge he had a broken toe. He’s probably the best player in Hawaii. He should’ve been invited to the Poly Bowl. They put him on hold and I said, you’re putting the best player in the state on hold?
HPW: How is his academic situation for college?
Johnson: We’re working on his grades and his SAT.
HPW: He hasn’t taken his SAT yet?
Johnson: Not yet.
HPW: I’m surprised there are still guys who wait until senior year to take it, quite a number of players around the island, ILH and OIA. How do you project Poki‘i at the next level?
Johnson: I think he’ll catch on, somebody will help him out, take a shot and they’ll be a happy person. The goodness of him, he’s a yes-sir kid. He’s a real respected kid.
HPW: You’ve had some really good seniors graduate over these past couple of years. Is there a sense of urgency now that it’s playoff season?
Johnson: We got good leaders among our seniors, juniors and sophomores. Even (Blesyng) Alualu-Tuiolemotu, he’s only a freshman and he shows leadership.
HPW: The last time Campbell played Kahuku, Kahuku ran the ball well. How do you counter that this time?
Johnson: They played good football. We made some mistakes. They’re a well-coached team. We’ve got to expect some wrinkles. Hopefully, we put our shoulder to the wheel and play good defense this time around.
HPW: You’ve coached against your alma mater so many times now. Is it still different than most games?
Johnson: It’s special always playing against Kahuku. Our team knows what’s at stake and how important the OIA championship is.
HPW: Speaking of wrinkles, I have to think Kahuku’s version of a trick play might be play-action. Maybe something more. It would be Campbell with more tricks, especially with receivers who can throw the ball.
Johnson: We’ll probably save a couple more. More than a couple more.
HPW: Going slower tempo, toe to toe with a heavyweight like Kahuku, that might be appealing. Or speed up the tempo, full-bore hurry-up offense.
Johnson: We want to take our time do things right and coach them right.
HPW: Kahuku coach (Sterling) Carvalho mentioned that he’s expecting thunderstorms this week, which would make their field muddy by game night. That would favor a running team, right?
Johnson: It’s a good thing we can run and throw.
HPW: Definitely. How is (running back) Sky Lactaoen doing?
Johnson: Sky (hamstring) is day to day.
HPW: Sky has an offer from Navy, but your other RB, Bubbah (Aina-Chaves), what do you think he can do in college?
Johnson: He can be a back for somebody at the next level. He deserves a shot. He plays hard, brings a lot to the table.
HPW: I remember him during a linemen session between St. Francis and Farrington last year. He lined up at defensive end and nobody could touch him.
Johnson: We had him rush in and play there, but we need him so much on offense.