Campbell recruits Johnson to coach, lead Sabers to state title

Amosa Amosa’s removal as head football coach at Campbell after last season came as a shock to many.

The Sabers were three years removed from a berth in the state semifinals, played in the Division I state semifinals last season under a new format, and had put together five winning seasons over a six-year span — all while competing in Division I.

Yet, the Sabers hadn’t quite gotten to where they wanted to go. Located in Ewa Beach, a place booming with talented football players who start out young playing in the Pop Warner and Big Boyz leagues, the pressure to bring a title to the West Side has grown along with the community size.

A football coach with a championship pedigree was out there. The only problem was, how could Campbell get Darren Johnson, who won an OIA title at Kailua in 2001 and another at Kaimuki in ’07, to take the job?

“I was enjoying retirement,” said Johnson, who laughed after a long pause when asked why he took the job. “Great question. The location, the school, the athletic department, the guys that are coaching with me. The kids in this area … You see there’s so much talent. It’s a place that is hungry for a championship and I’m hoping it’s something we can get done.”

Decked out in his trademark Dallas Cowboys hat, Johnson, who has won 72 games in nine previous seasons at this level, took to the practice field last week as the Sabers, ranked No. 9 in the Star-Advertiser preseason top 10, had finally put the pads on.

Getting a chance to evaluate the 65 kids who made the Sabers’ roster, Johnson was quickly reminded why he took this job in the first place.

“These are the type of kids I like. The blue-collar, hard workers live in Ewa. The linemen are tough. They get under you and there’s some nice things we’re going to do with them,” Johnson said.

“We have a chance. I made it real clear that we’re not building for the future. We’re building for now.”

Johnson, who runs the offense, says they will do “everything” on that side of the ball. They only have four returning starters on offense (eight total), but get back leading rusher Tasi Faumui (5-foot-8, 190 pounds). He’ll have plenty of competition at that spot, as Johnson plans to use multiple backs and, ultimately, “whoever is running the hell out of the ball will run it.”

Defensively, the Sabers could claim to having the best trio of returning sophomores in the state. Linebackers Tyrese Tafai (5-11, 200) and Jeremiah Tauai (6-1, 190) and safety Pokii Adkins-Kupukaa (5-11, 170) all have bright futures ahead of them and will play both ways despite the full roster.

“I’m big on winning,” he said. “We’re trying to win now. Guys got to be in good shape and the best kids are going to be on the field.”

Tafai, who earned a college scholarship offer from Nevada during his freshman year, has been practicing some at tight end. He played on Johnson’s 7-on-7 pylon team last year that went to Las Vegas and can take a little credit for Johnson’s hiring.

“I was fired up (when Johnson got hired). I was actually trying to tell the principal to hire this guy,” Tafai said. “Everything feels smooth and you can tell we’re going in the right direction.”


>> Aug. 4: Kapolei 7:30 p.m.

>> Aug. 11: Farrington 7:30 p.m.

>> Aug. 19: Aiea 6:30 p.m.

>> Aug. 25: @ Waianae 7:30 p.m.

>> Sept. 1: Kaiser 7:30 p.m.

>> Sept. 9: @ Moanalua 6:30 p.m.

>> Sept. 15: @ Radford 7:30 p.m.

>> Sept. 29: Kahuku 7:30 p.m.

>> Head coach: Darren Johnson, first season (72-34-1, 10 seasons overall)

>> Last year: 7-5 (5-2 OIA Blue); lost 25-7 to Farrington in the OIA quarterfinals, beat Moanalua 2-0 by forfeit in an OIA consolation playoff game, beat Waiakea 48-0 in the Division I state tournament first round, lost 35-12 to ‘Iolani in the D-I state tourney semifinals

>> Key offensive returnees: Tasi Faumui, Sr., RB, 5-8, 190; Vernon Etrata-Daite, Sr., SB, 5-8, 135; Gabriel Colon-Valentin, Sr., SB, 5-9, 170; Sir-Wallace Chanel, Jr., OL, 5-11, 260; Dylan Ursua, Sr., SB, 5-11, 165.

>> Key defensive returnees: Tyrese Tafai, So., LB, 5-11, 200; Pokii Adkins-Kupukaa, So., S, 5-11, 170; Jeremiah Tauai, So., LB, 6-1, 190; Dane Esprecion, Sr., LB, 5-6, 190; Nathaniel Thompson, Sr., DL, 6-1, 210.

>> Sabers with Division I FBS college offers: Linebacker Tyrese Tafae, LB (Nevada)