COUNTDOWN: Tyrese Tafai nears return, won’t have to shoulder load for No. 3 Campbell

Campbell senior linebacker is nearly back to full health after undergoing shoulder surgery last year. Paul Honda/Star-Advertiser

As a sophomore, Tyrese Tafai was a rising star on the gridiron.

The high-energy linebacker seemed to be everywhere making plays for the Campbell Sabers. In the trenches, sideline to sideline, chasing foes in the backfield, down the field. Fundamentally, he was a new breed of tackler, trained to use his shoulders, to get low and use leverage.

No one knew he would become sidelined for much of the next two seasons with a shoulder injury. Tafai finally went in for surgery last year to repair damage to his right labrum that had begun long before his first serious injury in 2017. He hasn’t played in a full-contact game since September and his return is one of many reasons the Sabers checked in at No. 3 in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Preseason Top 10. A full team preview was done in today’s newspaper, which you can read by clicking here.

“After that surgery, I’ve just been keeping low, just trying to get my shoulder right. Not really talking to many people. I was just going to therapy and working my shoulder out,” Tafai said. “I’m feeling good, almost 100 percent.”

It’s not uncommon for linebackers to have shoulder injuries. They often play through pain from a young age. Tafai just accepted it as a normal situation.

“The funny thing is, I never knew my shoulder was that bad. I thought it was just sore, but I checked up and they said I needed shoulder (surgery),” he said. “I’ve never had a concussion in high school. We just follow through on what we learn in practice.”

Now a senior, Tafai is listed at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds. Monday through Friday, Tafai is working out with his therapist.

“It’s light weight, but many reps, working out all the little muscles around the shoulder. I’ve just got to be at the right position at the right time, not try to do too much,” he said.

This fall, with a deep, talented senior class, Tafai doesn’t want to miss a moment. The Sabers are in no rush to have him back in a full-time role. Another skilled defender, Peter Manuma, will move from the secondary to linebacker as Tafai eases back into action.

“We have young D-linemen coming up, but I see them working and we’re just going to work as a team to help each other out. Hopefully, things fall the way we want them to,” Tafai said. “Our linebackers are real good. They’re learning. Peter’s an all-around player, so he knows what he’s doing. He’s a hybrid-type guy and holds his ground. I feel he can play linebacker with me inside. And we have some ballhawks on defense.”

Tafai is predicting a big season for nose tackle Ivan Soriano, a junior.

“He’s mean. He’s got some techniques. He uses his hands. He’s not the biggest, but he’ll put pressure on you,” he said.

If he didn’t have so much talent and drive, Tafai might be mistaken for a young coach. He has a maturity that isn’t common for high schoolers.

“It’s what everybody wants, a good game every week. In the Open Division, there’s no time to sleep, so everybody’s getting ready to work. Once we get done with week one, we move on to week two. We believe in each other. We believe this is the year for everybody,” Tafai said.

The energy of new defensive coordinator Blaze Soares, the former Castle and Hawaii standout linebacker, is infectious. Soares still can roam sideline to sideline during practice.

“He’s a real cool guy. He really teaches us whatever we need to know, not just our own job,” Tafai said. “He’s teaching us to be versatile. He still looks young, and he practices with us. He’s real close with my therapist (Pat Ariki) and he checks up on my therapy. He tells me to keep going, don’t rush into it. He really wants to to me use me this year and not be out like last year.”


  1. weak sauce July 31, 2019 9:15 am

    lol #3? campbell loses to Mililani (smashed), Kahuku (close), Saint Louis (smashed), Punahou (smashed), Kamehemeha (close).

  2. Saber Cat July 31, 2019 10:31 am

    Good points but they really have a lot of offensive weapons at RB Aina Chavez and Receiver(s). QB can throw up the 50/50 ball and most times Saber receivers will come up with it. He threw 4 picks last year against Mililani but he was only a held back freshman last year. This year as a 16 year old sophomore he should be better.

  3. HLI July 31, 2019 12:09 pm

    Whats gonna happen to the Lactoen kid now that the SF kid is there?

  4. New at this July 31, 2019 12:20 pm

    Aina-chavez will lead the state in rushing under new OC Jaymason Lee but his old OC from St. Francis where he was the leading rushing both year’s 10th &11th grade… Under new OC Campbell might have the #1 Offense in state on paper firepower at receivers as well. Campbell looks promising 🤙🏽

  5. weak sauce July 31, 2019 12:44 pm

    Everybody keep saying the weapons they have. Yes Ill be honest they do have weapons and probably has the best weapons in the state besides saint louis, dont get me wrong. But its another thing when you have pressure in your face and to stand in the pocket and throw the ball. All the pass league games looks very convincing with the QB launching touchdown after touchdown making it look rediculous to the defense because the defense cant stop it. But trust me when the pads come , campbell will be good, but only as good as probably the 5th best team in the state.

  6. Weak Sauce July 31, 2019 12:54 pm

    The real top 5 in the state

    (1) Saint Louis
    (3) Kahuku

  7. Truth July 31, 2019 1:42 pm

    Campbell 35 – Mililani 7 …Mililani QB will be weakest link for the team this year…

  8. Robocop July 31, 2019 4:49 pm

    Lol lots of weapons, most of which were there last year, how’d that go? Good for 4th or 5th at best

  9. Protectors not Protesters July 31, 2019 8:44 pm

    The standings is based on what they see and know according to the players and scrimmages they’ve seen. It’s not based on last years record. Of course we’ll see the real when the season starts. Cheer for the kids and not just the teams. If your hating on the team your hating on the kids and the same people that be cheering when they make it in college or NFL, saying great job, Hawaii represent, 808 boys all day. At the end of the day, the recruiters don’t come for the team, they come looking at individuals to offer no matter if you win a Championship or not. It’s always awesome when a kids and parents hard work pays off because that’s what it’s all about. Go get it 808 STUDENT ATHLETES make MOM and DAD proud!!

  10. Hahaha July 31, 2019 11:22 pm

    Campbell deserves that spot #3. Besides this ain’t college ranking BCS bowl games. So what is the hype with all this highschool football excitment. I live in Florida and these boys will smash any school you bring from Hawaii except Campbell lol. Good luck this season Hawaiians!

  11. Whatevas August 1, 2019 12:29 am

    All the St Francis kids who went to Open schools will struggle. This isn’t the D2. It’s the big boy league. Campbell will get smashed by STL and lose to Puns Kahuku and Mils. And their running back will not lead the league. Any bets?

  12. Real talk not pass league talk August 1, 2019 7:46 am

    Campbell vs saints 63-7 saints
    Campbell vs mililani 48-21 mills
    Campbell vs puns 45-7 puns
    Campbell vs Kahuku 35-28 Kahuku
    Campbell vs Kamehameha 28-27 warriors

    That’s how I see it .

  13. Oh stop it August 1, 2019 8:42 am

    Mililani vs Campbell 48-21 Millville
    Saint Louis Vs Campbell 63-7 Saints
    Punahou vs Campbell 45-7
    Kahuku Vs Campbell 35-28 Red Raiders
    Kamehameha vs Campbell 28-27 warriors

    this is my opinion lol.
    Pass League is now over and real football is in effect.

  14. One for the gipper August 1, 2019 11:45 am


  15. HLI August 1, 2019 12:52 pm

    Kalakaua Monarchs vs Waipahu Jackrabbits 5-5 TIE

  16. Lame August 1, 2019 2:31 pm

    Some of those “big weapons” should of graduated by now lol

  17. HOT Sauce August 2, 2019 10:21 am

    WOW…. Mahalo weak sauce, robocop, whatevas, real talk & oh stop it for providing Coach DJ and company with some EXCELLENT bulletin board material!! #weshallsee #sabernation

  18. Weak Da Sauce August 2, 2019 11:08 am

    HOT Sauce

    please dont get mad. Its just facts. The truth hurts, especially when expectations are high. Campbell is get a rude awakening next week against the trojans at their own house. Be prepared for riots after the game cause their will be lots of very dissapointing sabers .

  19. HOT da Sauce August 2, 2019 11:53 am

    @ Weak

    Nobody mad on this end my braddah, LOL… You sound quite hostile on your end though, LOL… Throwing ALOT of shade and what not… Again mahalo for the EXCELLENT bulletin board material!! You have yourself a great Aloha Friday! #weshallsee #sabernation

  20. Alex August 2, 2019 7:13 pm

    To those who think the saint Francis kids will struggle. I will warn u they ain’t no scrubs. They been balling out with the same athletes all their lives in the big boys. I promise u this baba will be the best rb in the state n u will wish u didn’t judge it’s book by its cover# Bubba was the best rb then n he will be the best this year mark my words# u have no idea stay bless # fasten ur seat belts

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