Sunday, July 31, 2022 | By Nick Abramo
In all three previous seasons with Darren Johnson at the helm, the Campbell football team advanced to the Open Division state semifinals.
All three times, his Sabers put up a fight only to be eliminated — by Kahuku 21-0 a year ago and by those same Red Raiders 21-19 in 2019, and before that, by Mililani 24-2 in 2018.
It’s not in Johnson’s nature to say, “What a great accomplishment,” about getting that far. And he knows in his heart that going the distance is possible.
Things like getting to the state title game and also winning it are what drives him, and fielding a defense that yielded just three touchdowns in each of those three big games against two of the most dynamic offenses in the state is not a bad building block on the way to that ultimate goal.
Creating a high-powered Sabers offense could open the floodgates to more success, and that is something Johnson is constantly working on. And it’s quite possible he may have found the right pieces to fit that puzzle.
In the offseason, two standout players from Open state runner-up Saint Louis transferred to Campbell — sophomore quarterback Jaron-Keawe Sagapolutele and 6-foot-5 senior wide receiver Mason Muaau. Sagapolutele lit up the scoreboard a year ago while playing for the Crusaders’ second varsity team, throwing for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns with only five interceptions in five games.
Look for slotback Dallas Fonseca-Juan and receivers Tana Tavui and Kamaeu Kopa-Kaawalauole to be important cogs in the Sabers’ offense.
Campbell also has a capable junior quarterback, Chayne Kuboyama-Hayashi, who suffered a late season injury last year and still wound up throwing for 1,552 yards and 15 TDs.
To make the passing game go, it’s going to be a big plus having protection from a massive offensive line, with the 6-7, 310-pound Isaac Maugaleoo coming in as a transfer from St. Petersburg, Florida, and junior Joshua Tavui (6-4, 290) as another leader on that unit.
Establishing a running game will be ultra important, too, and that fact is not lost on Kuboyama-Hayashi.
“This team, we’re way stronger this year, especially linemen-wise,” he said. “We’ve got Isaac at tackle. And the chemistry of the whole team is just way better. If we can put the run game in with the pass, it will be great because last year we didn’t run much.”
According to Johnson, the starting quarterback position has not been settled.
“We love it, the (QB) competition is amazing and it just gets us better,” Kuboyama-Hayashi added.
Sagapolutele noted that there is healthy competition not only at QB, but also team-wide at many positions.
“We’re confident because of all the new kids we picked up,” he said. “We have a lot of transfers that came in and we’re solid in 11s both ways. We’re always battling.”
After non-league games at home against Kailua on Aug. 12 and at Waipahu on Aug. 19, the Sabers begin OIA Open competition at Mililani on Aug. 27.
“The Open is tough,” Johnson said. “It’s a chore for every team there. Things are looking good and we want it to stay that way. We want these kids to step up and take responsibility and ownership. Most importantly, we want good leadership and cohesiveness with everybody playing on the same page and understanding their roles.”
For Johnson, football is way more than a game.
“We’re right where we want to be in leadership from top to bottom, starting with support from the AD and the principal,” he added. “We’re working to be good citizens. There’s standards in football and standards in life. Football helps with your accountability and being in the right place at the right time. On the field, there’s always something to learn — understanding the mistakes we made and understanding that we want to get better.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Johnson has high expectations for captain Blesyng Alualu-Tuiolemotu, a UNLV commit who also received scholarship offers from five other FBS D-I colleges.
“He’s a linebacker and a rush end,” the coach said. “We move him all over. He’s a four-year guy and very coachable.”
Among the other Sabers expected to be impact players on defense are linebacker Nui Moore and defensive backs Kela Moore and Tysic Puni.
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