Hoomanawanui Takes On Leadership Role

Something beautiful happens to athletes when they suddenly realize they are in their last year of playing college sports. Once just small cogs in a big wheel, they now must stand up as leaders and take responsibility for their younger teammates. Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui is approaching his senior year with the seriousness it requires.

It seems like only yesterday that Illinois fans and coaches were presented with the complex dilemma of trying to pronounce the last name of Michael Hoomanawanui. After three years, some still have trouble with it. But the senior tight end has more important considerations on his mind.

"After our last game at Northwestern last year, a switch kind of flipped in my head that I've got one more year. For me, being the senior tight end and being a leader on this team is a big responsibility. I'm looking forward to it and want to bring not only the younger tight ends along, but other young guys too."

One of those young tight ends is Hubie Graham, who earned his spurs as a raw freshman last fall.

"He's had a year under a belt, and he's picking up things. It's our job as experienced tight ends to bring London (Davis) and Zach Becker along too. Spring ball is a great time for the younger guys to get some more playing time and get to know the offense a little more."

Sometimes a coaching change can be injurious to a group of athletes, but new offensive coordinator Mike Schultz has made a positive impression. Hoomanawanui was asked what Schultz brings to the table.

"I'll say first of all fire. He's a real energetic guy. He'll beat you down, but he'll be the first one to pick you up. That's what I like about him. He'll get on your butt a little bit, but I like that he's there to pick you up and teach you.

"What he brought to this whole offense is a lot of tempo. We're not going to huddle up, but at the same time I think we're moving faster. As a unit, we're doing more two-tight end stuff, which we haven't seen a lot in the past couple of years. With me and Hubie having experience, we're going to have to bring the younger guys along and get this thing going."

That doesn't mean the new offense is uncomplicated.

"I'm not going to say it's easy. There are new formations and new plays. I have to throw away the old terminology especially with the new coach and new offensive coordinator. I have to reset my mind a little bit, but springtime is a good time work on that."

Michael likes the fact that Schultz also coaches the tight ends.

"For me personally, having the offensive coordinator as my position coach is kind of nice. He is always on our tails, but we learn a lot more than just our position because he is in charge of the entire offense. That is kind of nice. I like him a lot. I think he is a good fit for us."

Tight ends have to be good blockers as well as receivers. Hoomanawanui works with offensive line coach Joe Gilbert, another newcomer to the staff, on his blocking technique.

"Coach Zook always seems to bring in some high quality guys. I like him a lot. It's nice because I think we're working with the offensive line more than we have in past years. Him and Coach Schultz have a good relationship. I like the way he teaches things."

Michael is excited about the potential of the offense. There are playmakers everywhere.

"We have a lot of returning guys, and we added one in Jarred Fayson, who is an explosive wide receiver. It'll be interesting. I'm sure the fans will like it a lot. It'll be nice to spread the ball around and get these fans back into it."

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