Hoomanawanui Continuing To Provide Leadership

As the Fighting Illini football team searches for answers to its poor play this season, more and more upperclassmen are standing up to be counted. Leaders like tight end Michael Hoomanawanui want their remaining time on campus to be productive and rewarding, and they need the younger guys to join them in the effort. Time is running short, and much is on the line.

Senior Michael Hoomanawanui is just as confused as everyone else regarding the downfall of the Illinois football team this season. He didn't see it coming.

"I know everyone worked their butts off in the off season, coming off a 5-7 season last year. No one saw it this way. I know nobody thought we'd be 1-5. If you'd told anyone on our team that, they would have put anything they had up against you. For whatever reason, we've hurt ourselves. We've dug ourselves a nice hole, and we've got to do something about it.

"There's two ways you can go. You either fight it and get yourself out of it, or you choose the easy way and give up. I know I'm gonna keep working, and I hope everyone else does the same. We need to get it taken care of as soon as possible."

Unfortunately, not all the players see things the same way. According to Hoomanawanui, some of the younger players and reserves who may not be seeing as much time as they'd like may be precipitating out and not giving maximum effort in practice and games.

"It's hard for young guys, freshmen and sophomores, because they haven't invested as much. They don't know what it's like to go through losing seasons. They don't know the hard work it takes. So you can understand how it doesn't mean as much to them as it does to juniors and seniors.

"You're gonna have guys fall off and go separate ways. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it is. I wish them the best of luck, but I know me personally and the guys that have been here 3-4 years are gonna keep fighting to the end. Hopefully, they get as sick of it as the juniors and seniors, and it will mean a little more.

"I'm not gonna call anyone out individually. Every team has this, it's not just us. I'm sure winning teams have it, guys that are not playing as much as they want to, coming off great senior seasons from winning programs and not being in the game. It's the nature of the game."

He may not want to name names, but he agrees they must be confronted and encouraged to put more energy into their efforts.

"Personally, yeah as a leader and a guy that has played four years here, you have to. You want to be successful in anything you do. You have to call those people out. Hopefully, it sticks with them and they change their attitude."

Hoomanawanui says this problem is not unique to this season.

"I'd say you have it every year. Maybe it's a little more apparent this year just because of the way it's going. My first year we were 2-10. But it didn't mean as much because I hadn't invested as much as the older guys had."

How do you keep morale up when there are no tangible rewards for hard work?

"It's the older guys taking the younger guys by the neck and showing them the ropes, showing them the hard work it really does take. You can't show up and rely on athletic ability. You have to put extra work in, extra film in, whatever needs to be done to get the W on Saturdays. Some people haven't done that.

"Shut our mouths, keep working hard and hopefully things will turn our way. They've got to. Keep working, and hopefully our actions will speak on Saturdays."

Hoomanawanui expanded on what players must do to win games.

"Coach always talks about the little things, putting in the extra time, the extra work. Maybe we haven't done that. We just expect it, doing the bare minimum, showing up on Saturdays and expecting to win. That isn't the case at all.

"I think the juniors and seniors have done a good job. We and the coaches have preached that at some point, we have to stand up for ourselves and be men about it. Listen to others and do all they can to get a victory on Saturday.

"Coach always talks about how you have 7-8 plays that can change a game. Whether it's looking at an extra piece of film, catch a blitz maybe they haven't done as much, that could change the game. I missed a blitz against Ohio State and blocked the wrong guy. Stuff like that. You don't expect it, but anything can happen. You only get so many chances to make the play.

"This team kills itself week after week with turnovers, missed assignments, missed blocks. You're not gonna win games when you have so few opportunities to do something."

In the Indiana game, at least three passes were intended for Hoomanawanui, but none were catchable. He admits the offensive skill players are frustrated with how the offense has not reached its potential.

"Oh yeah. Definitely. To know that we're so much better than everyone sees. To know all the hard work we put in in the off season, more than ever I'd say. It's disappointing. For whatever reason, we just haven't clicked yet. Hopefully, we'll figure that out this week."

There is a general uproar by the Illini Nation against the play-calling. Has Hoomanawanui second guessed the style of play?

"No. There's been a couple changes here and there, but for the most part we still have the same plays."

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