Hoomanawanui Working Overtime These Days

Illini football fans were thrilled when Jeff Cumberland was moved from tight end to wide receiver because it allowed him to show off his athleticism. But forgotten was the effect the change had on Michael Hoomanawanui, the only other tight end on scholarship, who suddenly was taking all of the practice reps at tight end.

"Yeah, I did (get lonely)." said the 6-foot-5, 261-pounder from Bloomington Central Catholic. It's been rough the last couple weeks taking all the reps. I've just got to push through it. It's just me and (walkon) Tom Sullivan, and he's got scout team duties."

Michael is a talented athlete, and he continues to mature and improve. He believes he has done well, but he still looks forward to some new additions in next year's freshman class.

"I think I've done a pretty good job. I keep in the back of my head I'll be seeing the field a lot. But we don't have anybody until these new guys come in."

The new guys he refers to are Pennsylvanian Hubie Graham and Cahokia's London Davis. Michael confirms they are both outstanding prospects, and he can't wait for them to arrive.

"I got the chance to sit down and talk with both, and I think they're excited. I'm definitely excited because in those individual periods, when the ones and twos and threes are called, I've got to do them all."

Hoomanawanui's only pass reception in 2006 was a two-point conversion that didn't count in official statistics. He caught five passes this year, including two for touchdowns. One of those was a big one in the Ohio State victory. He wanted to be more involved in the passing game, but first things first.

"In the offseason, I had some things to work out. First of all, I had to get healthy and get my legs under me again. Just little things in route running I had to do myself. I think I've come a long way."

Illini coaches want to utilize tight ends in the passing game, but they must be capable of performing consistently. Little by little, that's starting to happen.

"They began to put me in more, so I got some catches this year. As I improved, they got more confidence in me, and I had more confidence in myself. These last couple of weeks, I think I've been doing a great job. I think we're ready, and hopefully I'll get a couple passes come my way (in the Rose Bowl).

An important part of the tight end position is blocking. Hoomanawanui demonstrated his immense potential in a recent practice drill. In the "Oklahoma Drill", a blocker tries to subdue a defender within a tight space while a running back runs to daylight. Michael's first engagement with linebacker Rodney Pittman went poorly for him, so he asked for a rematch.

"I had to get right back in there. Oklahoma is a tough drill because you've got two guys wanting to take each other's heads off. The first time, he got under me and put his head down in my chest, so I had to get him back. I got fundamentally correct and put him on his back."

Indeed, Michael pancaked him. Drove him straight into the ground with impressive intensity. If he can maintain that intensity on every play, the sky is the limit for him.

"I watched it on film, and I'm definitely going to have to keep that in my head. Yeah, I'm going to carry that over to Pasadena."

Speaking of the Rose Bowl, Hoomanawanui is looking forward to competing against some great athletes on USC's vaunted defensive front seven.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge. USC has a great defense. Not only the defensive ends, but I'll be ecstatic to go against the linebackers too. I get to face another Polynesian in Ray Maualuga. And they've got a couple more guys, so that'll be fun."

Tight end is a difficult position requiring the size to block defensive ends and linebackers and the speed and agility to be a productive part of the pass offense. If Michael Hoomanawanui continues to mature into the position, an All-Star future might be in store.

Especially if he can get some rest once in a awhile.

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