Michael Hoomanawanui entered his senior year at Illinois as a possible NFL draft pick after impressing pro scouts as a junior tight end in 2008. He showed excellent hands, good speed and outstanding blocking ability. However, a high ankle sprain early last fall forced him to sit out much of the year.
He admits he was beginning to wonder about his future.
"It was hard. At times I was thinking, 'Why me?' Coming off a great junior season and hopefully build on that as a team to get a bowl game. Obviously, I didn't have a great senior season myself.
"Yeah. Thoughts (of it slipping away) creep into your head. But I have a great family and friends to give me support. I get support from the coaches, the training staff and all the guys around here. Those thoughts get into your head, but you've just got to spit them out real quick.
"After the season, I had to rethink everything. Being invited to the Senior Bowl, I took it as a big job interview. I can't go around with a chip on my shoulder because that can't make you any friends. I had a lot to prove. I missed a bunch of games, and I went down there and saw that I did good."
He suffered a mild injury to his quadriceps muscles preparing for that game, but he played through it.
"I strained my quad during the Senior Bowl, the first day of practice. I played with it throughout the week, and it was fine."
Those practices were hard on everyone. Illini offensive guard Jon Asamoah hurt his shoulder and couldn't play, and there were other injuries as well.
"Yeah, Jon, and the kid from Wisconsin (O'Brien Schofield) injured hs ACL. We hadn't put the pads on in awhile. The most important part of the Senior Bowl is the practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday eases down. That's usually when the GM's and coaches go home. It's the first time everyone's been hitting in awhile, so you have to tough through it. And then the game."
Hoomanawanui continued his training regimen after the game but reinjured his leg.
"I went back to training and strained it a little bit more. My trainer and I made the decision not to run at the Combine. I'll run at the Pro Timing Day Wednesday."
Despite not running, he did make an impression with his weight lifting.
"I did 25 reps at 225 pounds. I've done 26 and 27 before. It's a different story when you get up on the stage and do it in front of them. Some of the linemen didn't really do too well."
That performance was good enough for third among all tight ends present. Not running that day may end up being a blessing for him as he now can focus on preparing to run for the scouts Wednesday rather than having to bulk up for the weights. And it makes Wednesday much less strenuous.
"It was great. Not only did it show my size and strength. At the Combine you run from the bench straight to the run. You have to get your body tight for that. But I don't have to bench (at the Pro Timing Day). I could have done a little bit better, but I'm happy with that. I'll just run and do drills for the coaches. I lost a little at the Combine, but everybody said I could do it at Pro Day and be fine."
Part of the Combine is personal interviews with the various NFL teams. Scouts wanted to know why he had so few catches for the Illini last year.
"Yeah, that comes up a lot. Some interviews are a little more in depth than just the basic stuff. I remember a couple interviews. 'Junior year, you had 25 catches for so many yards, and senior year you had 10 catches for 100 yards. Why should we get you?'
"I said, 'That's a great question. The personality I have, how good an athlete I am, determination. I feel I haven't reached my peak yet. There's a lot of room to improve. Through coaching, I think I can be a guy to help out a team.'"
Of course, the 264 pounder was handicapped by having an offense and quarterback who didn't get him the ball. The pros understand that.
"Yeah, people in the NFL know football. They watch film. The big thing they bring up is, when the ball does come my way, I get it. A lot of teams talk about being a blocking tight end. But the way I look at it, just give me a shot. I'll do whatever they need me to do."
Hoomanawanui trained out of state for awhile, but he is back in Champaign now.
"I'm working our here. I've taken the program I was working at Nashville, Tennessee, and brought it back to Coach Lou (Hernandez) and Coach Zech. They're working with me every day. Me, Juice (Williams), Jeff Cumberland and Chris Duvalt are all working out together. I'm doing good, and hopefully we'll see Wednesday."
After Pro Timing Day, the Bloomington Central Catholic product will travel for private workouts with several pro teams.
"I've already got some invitations for workouts after the Pro Day. The more teams I can get with, the better. Right now I have the Browns, Bills, Falcons. I had great interviews with several more teams, so I expect to hear from those guys. San Diego. I don't think the Bears anymore. Rams, 49ers, Cowboys, Bengals. We'll see."
Illinois is changing its offense in 2010 to a more pro-style attack that features the tight end more. It is one year too late for Hoomanawanui. He wishes he had a chance in the new offense, but he holds no grudges.
"Yeah. I've met some of the coaches. Everything I've heard about the offense has been great, and all the guys are excited. I wish the best for them, and I hope they get back on track and get to a bowl."