Blaine Hipa is better today than he was yesterday, that’s for sure.
Hipa showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman last fall at Campbell. In the eight months since, the lanky southpaw has filled out his frame with some muscle. More so, he has become efficient with his progression from the pocket. It showed on Saturday when he tossed five touchdown passes in a 30-20 win over talented Mililani in the final of the Los Angeles Rams 7v7 tournament at Eddie Hamada Field.
“I’m really happy with what our coaches are doing, how they’ve turned the program forward. They kids are working hard and they’re competing,” Sabers coach Darren Johnson said. “We’ve got good guys running around, and Blaze (Soares) and his defensive staff work the kids hard. I want the kids to catch on and continue that.”
Campbell finished the day 5-0 overall, handing Mililani it’s lone defeat. In semifinal play, it was Mililani that ousted a resilient Waipahu squad. Waipahu had upset Saint Louis in the quarterfinals.
“We’ve been practicing since April, three times a week, and it showed on the field today,” running back Sky Lactaoen said. “We’re cleaning up stuff, our mistakes, and getting better every week. We want to be the best offense in the state and we do have a good line. We’re bonding together as a team.”
The Sabers, however, were humming. Hipa found speedy Titus Mokiao-Atimalala for the first two TD strikes of the game. Then Hipa connected with Poki‘i Adkins-Kupukaa and Peter Manuma before finishing the battle with another scoring strike to Adkins-Kupukaa.
Hipa’s work with assistant coach Keli‘i Tilton has boosted confidence.
“Reading defenses, it’s easier to pick apart defenses now,” Hipa said.
It won’t be easy to gauge Campbell’s offense until the real game is in play, 11-on-11, come August. For now, however, Campbell’s offense appears to be a juggernaut.
“It’s all about teamwork,” said Adkins-Kupukaa, who caught seven touchdown passes last year in split time on offense.
Last season, his focus was on defense as a safety with incredible range. He sacrificed his offensive production.
“We’re going at against each other it every day,” Titus Mokiao-Atimalala said.
“We always come out to work and compete,” added Tamatoa Mokiao-Atimalala, who has committed to Hawaii. “That’s who we are as Campbell. We just want to get better. We feel thankful and blessed.”
Saint Louis’ offense should be unparalleled — Jayden de Laura and some of his standout receivers did not play in the 7v7 — but the day belonged to the Sabers.
“It’s the culture in Ewa Beach,” Lactaoen said. “We’re blessed with DJ, who always keeps us accountable, and we do it for our brothers.”
The Sabers haven’t missed a beat, though Coach Johnson’s health was a concern in April. Johnson suffered a stroke and has recovered significantly. The coaching staff, which includes former Castle standout Jaymason Lee (offensive coordinator), has stepped up.
“We just wanted him to get better,” Titus Mokiao-Atimalala said. “We’re here to make sure that happens.”
“He’s still the same guy that he was last year,” Lactaoen added. “We still respect him the same. Nothing changes.”
Johnson has been on leave from work since the stroke. He has dropped 25 pounds and walks every morning in his Hauula neighborhood, singing along to country and Hawaiian music. He’s in physical therapy and has changed his diet. No fast food. No processed sugar. He has even cut out rice.
“I’m hoping to go back to work, so I’m just working on that right now,” said Johnson, who hopes to get under 200 pounds. “We have a good boss and I work with good people, so it’s good. The kids understand it. The coaches understand it.”
The plan is to keep pushing forward.
“Sky’s the captain and he’s good with keeping guys accountable and getting better,” Johnson said. “That’s why we work out three days (per week). They have time to still enjoy summer.”
Videos from the tournament coming shortly.