Michael Hoomanawanui started three games for the Illini football team last fall and played in ten as a raw freshman despite struggling with two different nagging injuries. A graduate from Bloomington Central Catholic, the small school star faced quite a transition to the college game.
Michael Hoomanawanui was a consensus All-Stater in Illinois, and he has both the size and athleticism to excel as a tight end at the U of I. And as an upcoming sophomore with experience, he is showing signs he will be a big help to the Illini offense. And his body looks much different now than it did last fall.
"Yea, I weighed about 260 starting camp last fall. I now weigh about 258. It's just transformed right now. You know, Body By Lou (Lou Hernandex, Strength and Conditioning coach)."
Obviously, the Illini's winter conditioning program is rigorous but produces results.
"It was scary going into it, just like every other freshman. Once you get into it and get used to it, it is no different than anything else. The results definitely make it worthwhile. It's hard waking up at 5:30, but you get used to it."
Hoomanawanaui looked great in the first practice last fall, but he then pulled a hamstring muscle that set back his learning curve.
"It was a nagging injury. I've never had it before so it was difficult. I'd get better and then I would tweak it again. I also had a sprained MCL during the middle of the season that kind of set me back too and caused me to miss the Penn State game. It took me 2-3 more weeks to get well from that."
With all the complexity and the setbacks, it must have been difficult for Michael to catch up with the speed of the game.
"Oh, it definitely was. There's a lot more athletes on the field. And there's a definite speed with our offense, getting the plays on the field, etc. Very complex." Hoomanawanui was not credited with any official stats last fall, but he did catch a two-point conversion pass against Purdue. "Yea, it was especially nice because my sister is a junior at Purdue and I could rub it in a little."
The Illini coaching staff appeared to start Michael and freshman tight end teammate Jeff Cumberland off slowly. Their plays were limited initially and then expanded slowly over the course of the season. Does Michael think the tight end will get more pass-catching opportunities this next fall?
"Yea, I think so. The Big Ten is the top football in the nation. So as a freshman, it was difficult to absorb it all and take it to the field. You know in high school I played both ways, so it's definitely different to just play on offense and learn all the different techniques. I think we are becoming more comfortable with the offense so now we can go out relaxed, perform and have fun."
Michael has no preference between blocking and catching passes.
"I'm a typical tight end, so I like both blocking and catching passes. I enjoy putting people on their backs, and I enjoy catching the ball so I guess I'm just like everyone else." He has noticed a change in overall team attitude since last fall.
"Our freshman class has stuck together. We have confidence in each other as we have worked together every day. After the season, we said enough is enough. We have become more dedicated. I wouldn't say we didn't want to win last year, but we want to make more effort to take that next step. We are rebuilding, so it takes awhile. We work so hard day and night, and we are now going in the right direction."
Michael's close friend and high school teammate Josh Brent has signed with the Illini and will be competing for playing time at defensive tackle this fall as an entering freshman. Brent has already been to several practices, and his preparations have been helped by his friend's guidance.
"Yes, he's working hard at home. He has track right now, but he should be prepared for fall. I try to let him know what's going on so he won't be surprised by anything."
Michael Hoomanawanui is majoring in Recreation Sports Management. After what he hopes will be a long professional career, he hopes to become involved with a recreation center or rehabilitation, although his plans are far from settled at this time.
This young man impressed us as another of the outstanding individuals attracted to Illinois in recent years. He is personable and well-spoken besides being an outstanding tight end prospect. We thank Michael for his time and hope he has a great future.