Oh Oh, Time for Tight End to Shine

Illinois wants to involve the tight ends in the passing game. But since Coach Ron Zook took over the reigns, there's been a lack of depth and experience at the position. With Michael Hoomanawanui now an improved junior, the tight end will see more passes come his way.

Michael showed definite improvement in route running and recognition in the spring, so he received more chances in the passing game.

"I'm real excited for this camp to take off where I left off in the spring, and then into the season. The spring and summer are springboards for the season for me."

The 6'-5" Bloomington Central Catholic athlete has improved his conditioning, strength and quickness and is now also in good health. He is listed at 274 pounds, but that weight is inaccurate.

"That was at the beginning of summer. I'm 265 now. They had tried to get my metabolism going, but it didn't work so I just gained weight. Hopefully, I can lose a couple more pounds in this heat and humidity in Rantoul, so I hope to be about 260 for the season.

"I've had problems with my hamstrings, and the strength coaches in rehab have done a great job on it. I've never felt better. I've been running good and running my routes good, so I'm excited to get the season underway."

Of course, improved quarterback play also helps tight ends get more opportunities.

"In the spring, everyone saw what strides Juice (Williams) is making in accuracy, putting some touch on the ball, making reads. I think sometimes (in the past) he would just go out there and hope someone was open.

"But he's spent a lot of time in the video room with coaches and with Eddie (McGee) to get straightened out, and he's improved a lot in summer 7 on 7 distributing the ball to everyone. I think he's gotten a lot better, he and Eddie both."

Last season, the "Hoo Man" and walkon Tom Sullivan were the only tight ends on the roster once Jeff Cumberland moved to wide receiver. Having to take on more reps in practice wore him down.

"You're not lying. With that heat and humidity out there, it's gonna be rough. We started with three last fall, then it went to two during the season, but now it's up to four. It won't wear us out as much, but it will also be good for us to teach them (the freshmen)."

The Illini recruited two tight ends this year, and Michael has a good first impression of both.

"London Davis was in the Bridge Program, so I didn't see him much. But as far as Hubie (Graham), and London when I did see him a couple of times, we noticed they asked a lot of questions. It was kind of weird at first.

"When me and Sully were here alone, we had no one to ask questions to except quarterbacks, and they didn't even know. So we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off. It was good to see them ask questions. They want to know and get involved. They have good size, good speed, and good hands. It will be interesting to see how they turn out in camp."

The extra depth will also help Hoomanawanui in the passing game by keeping the defense guessing.

"We'll be able to use more two tight end sets and be more involved like we should be. We did some pass options off the two-tight end sets and got some good looks off it. People won't be looking at me as just a blocker when I'm in now."

Of course, Michael is known for his blocking. He is working on translating the intensity he uses in practice into every snap during a game.

"Definitely. With the size I have, and my strength, I think I can use that to my advantage alot. I look forward to the Oklahoma drills, one on one and let the best man win. I think I can now translate that to the playing field.

"Why beat up my own teammates when I can go out there and beat up somebody else. August 30, we'll see what happens."

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