Kahuku’s Johnson is only 5 feet 8, but he packs a wallop
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 11, 2012
~~<p>Kahuku senior Kawehena Johnson wouldn’t be the first person you’d ask to change a light bulb. Need anything else done, though, and Johnson is your man.<br />
Kahuku senior Kawehena Johnson wouldn’t be the first person you’d ask to change a light bulb. Need anything else done, though, and Johnson is your man. Johnson plays nearly every snap for the top-ranked football team in the state, bringing a little man’s syndrome to the field every weekend. Coaches say he is the perfect blend of speed and smarts, but lacks the one thing that effort won’t help him improve on: his height. Johnson, who helped Kahuku to a football state championship and OIA title in basketball last year, stands 5 feet 8. Despite his one perceived weakness, Johnson has options. The safety/receiver is looking at Navy, New Mexico State, UNLV and Weber State, among others, but won’t make up his mind until he completes his trips. The SEC probably isn’t going to be calling him, though, and hometown Hawaii hasn’t shown any interest yet, but that’s OK. Johnson, whose father Darren coaches at Kahuku and ran the programs at Kailua and Kaimuki, just wants to play. “I have loved the game since before I could remember,” Johnson said. “My dad would take me to practice every day with him no matter where he coached. I just fell in love with it. I played Pop Warner since I was 8 and played on the sidelines since before that. I can’t imagine not playing. Maybe I will coach when I can’t run anymore.” Kaiser coach Rich Miano knows as much about defense as anyone on the island after a playing career in the NFL and on the higher reaches of the UH coaching staff. He doesn’t have to prepare for Johnson this year, and he knows enough about him to be grateful for it. “Technically, he is as good as anyone in the nation,” Miano said. “If he was 6 feet he would be Pac-12 and beyond. He is probably as close to being (former Kahuku product) Richard Torres, who turned into one of the best defensive backs I have ever coached, as anyone.” McKinley coach Joseph Cho had the task of preparing for Kahuku last week and came up with a defensive game plan that held Johnson down on offense. The Tigers had a little bit more trouble with Johnson on defense, though, avoiding the middle of the field, where the firecracker sets up and makes the coverage calls. The one time they did test Johnson, he put a hit on a receiver in the middle of the field that delayed the game for a while and kept McKinley from testing him for the rest of the game. “He is a tenacious hitter, an intimidating hitter,” Cho said. “As far as college, I don’t know about Division I. The Torres kid made it, and he wasn’t much bigger. He definitely can play at the next level, but if he was a little taller he would have Division I schools lining up.” Coaches can’t help but compare Johnson to Torres, who came out of Kahuku at 5-7 and declined an offer to Western Oregon to walk on at UH. He moved his way into the starting lineup in his sophomore season, but Torres spent the bulk of his prep career at quarterback. “Compared to me, he is way past me at that time,” Torres said. “He knows the game a lot more than I did. A lot of the things I know I didn’t pick up until I got to UH with Coach Miano. Kawe is going to be an outstanding college player. It is a shame people make so much of height.” The thing is, if Johnson were on the upside of 6 feet, he might not have become the player he is. When Johnson first took the field for the varsity as a freshman, he felt the eyes on him. He knew opponents looked at him and saw a quick little player who could get run over if a runner had a full head of steam and a 50-pound advantage. Opponents don’t think that anymore, but recruiters might. “I hope they look at me and say I’m small,” Johnson said. “But people I play don’t think that anymore, I don’t think. College coaches do think I am small. I have something to prove to them every time I play.”
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