Meet Darren Johnson.
Kahuku basketball wiz. Ukulele player. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Kahuku football player, assistant coach. Kailua head coach. Kahuku basketball coach.
Campbell Sabers football coach. That’s right. Coach DJ wakes up early, heads to his job in Kalihi (OCCC), then heads to Ewa Beach for practice, and then back to Hauula. Every day, almost. Somehow, he’s managed a near 100-percent academic eligibility rate in his two seasons — perfect, actually, this fall. On the field, the Sabers are in the conversation for OIA title contention in the Open Division. A state championship is not out of reach.
The Sabers are 1-0 with a nonleague 54-14 win over Hilo in Week 1. They had a bye last weekend and will host Farrington on Saturday.
Coach Johnson chatted with Hawaii Prep World on Tuesday.
HPW: How the physical state of your team, Coach?
Darren Johnson: We’re healthy as we can be.
HPW: What has surprised you or made you happiest about the team?
DJ: The work ethic that they’ve shown at practice, taking care of their academics, being more respectful as student-athletes.
HPW: This is an incredible accomplishment again. Keeping athletes focused academically in the fourth quarter, during spring, is a tough challenge everywhere.
DJ: We have no casualties yet. All of our coaches are accountable for their players. I come down hard on them and it’s a combination of our coaches, faculty and administration. It’s pretty much tough love. If you don’t want to do the work, you aren’t ready to play. They’re gone.
HPW: So the guys who don’t want to do the school work in the spring, you let them go?
HPW: How many players did you lose then, in the spring?
DJ: Not too many. Probably three or four.
HPW: This process has to take a lot of micromanagement. How does anyone or any staff keep 50 or 60 or more players on their school work?
DJ: We have a good tutorial system here for all the student body, but we take advantage of it.
HPW: Which position on the team gets the best grades?
DJ: I think our offensive line has the highest GPA.
HPW: The fan in me wants to see 100 catches for 2,000 yards by Poki‘i Adkins-Kupukaa. But the football thinker in me knows you probably will keep him on defense full-time with some spot duty on offense.
DJ: As long as Poki‘i can be on the field, we want to put him there. But we want to win and get out (healthy). We don’t want us or any opponents to get hurt.
HPW: His college prospects are better at defensive back?
DJ: Everybody wants him at safety, but they don’t all know how good he is on offense.