Life Matters: How Kawe Johnson overcame a career-ending injury

In the world of sports, there are guys and there are dudes.

Former Kahuku safety turned current Campbell assistant coach Kawehena Johnson is no doubt a dude.

Back in 2012, the state Player of the Year was the total package, racking up eight interceptions.

“The bond our team had, it wasn’t just me. Everybody on our team could fly, everybody on our team could play. It was just a team effort. Every time we stepped on the field, we were willing to basically die for our brother on the side of us,” Johnson recalled.

When Johnson went to New Mexico State to play college ball, he recorded an interception and two forced fumbles against the Tigers.

“Stepping onto the field in front of 90,000-plus, there’s no better feeling than that,” he said. “The feeling in your heart, it’s just amazing. Everyone’s on their feet.”

That feeling became numbness. A year later, Johnson forced a fumble against Georgia State, but couldn’t get up. A bruise on his spinal cord left him partially paralyzed for over half an hour. He was taken off the field in a stretcher.

The physical pain was bearable, but the emotional anguish of having to give up the sport he loved lives on to this day.

“It hurt. The game you grew up learning to love, it just breaks your heart not being able to suit up anymore,” Johnson said.

“When everything went down, I was trying to find the next doctor. I was trying to do anything to get him back on the field, because we know his passion for the game, his love for the game,” said his father and Campbell head coach Darren Johnson.

That love never subsided, so Johnson found a new way to stay attached: by helping Hawaii’s youth.

“I like to help athletes achieve their goals in training, in practice here at Campbell, just making plays on the field and off the field,” Johnson said.

“The football community embraces him as a good teacher,” Darren Johnson said. “I’m lucky that I could steal him here, where he can work with our Ewa Beach young men and help them progress and be successful.”

Just like he did under the lights, Johnson is living up to his dad’s high expectations by finishing his degree and raising his 2-month-old daughter.

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