“I pinch myself every day when I wake up, and it’s no exaggeration,” he said. “You know, there’s people all around the world that would love to be in our position right now. Like I said, my teammates from last year and a couple years before, there’s many guys I think could be playing but for whatever reason they just didn’t make it. So like I said, we’ve just got to take this opportunity and run with it.”
Hoomanawanui, a 6-foot-4, 265-pounder, certainly has an opportunity with the Rams, who selected him in the fifth round of the draft this spring. He’s one of two rookies — along with former basketball player Fendi Onobun — who are competing for roster spots and playing time at the tight end position that looks like one of the most intriguing position battles of training camp.
Since Randy McMichael, the Rams starting tight end the past three years, was not brought back by the club, the two rookies are competing with Billy Bajema, Daniel Fells and Darcy Johnson for snaps. Fells caught 21 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns in 2009, while Bajema caught eight passes for 94 yards. Johnson, a free agent pick-up, started four games for the Giants a year ago and had five catches for 32 yards.
“We’re very hopeful with those two guys, Mike and Fendi,” Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said following Friday’s practice. “ They flash, they do some good things. Like every rookie, they make some mistakes. To this point, (tight end coach) Frank (Leonard), (offensive coordinator) Pat (Shurmur) and myself really have a little bit of excitement about those two guys. We’ll see where they go from here to wherever we get them to.”
Hoomanawanui said that Leonard reminds them every day that there is an open competition at that position and Fells, Hoomanawanui and Onobun all did some positive things during the Thursday and Friday practices for rookies, quarterbacks and selected veterans.
“Coach lets us know every day, so definitely it’s in the back of our minds,” Hoomanawanui said. “Like I say, you’ve got to just worry about yourself, and go out and do what you’re supposed to do and hopefully everything will fall in (place).”
The two rookie tight ends have already impressed Fells.
“All in all with all the rookies coming in we have a talented group of guys who are here right now,” he said on Friday. “As far as the tight ends go, we have Mike. I’m not even going to try to say his last name. Mikey Ho. Ho-amma-nam-a-nui, something like that. He’s a very talented kid. Just being out here working with him since April, since he got drafted, he works hard and he’s a very talented player. Then you’ve got Fendi who is just a freakish athlete. The kid is just unbelievable fast for his size. It’s amazing.”
Hoomanawanui, an outgoing guy who may be the first Rams player to bring a ukulele with him to training camp,
“He’s a very natural catcher, I think,” Spagnuolo said. “He’s done a lot of that at Illinois and obviously was successful at it. That sticks right out. There’s a lot going into playing tight end in the NFL, so he’s got a lot to learn. He’s an eager guy.”
The rookie from the University of Illinois has heard positive praise for his hands from the Rams coaching staff already, but he said he lets that praise go in one ear and out the other because he wants to keep working hard to get better.
But Hoomanawanui, who caught 40 passes for 490 yards and four touchdowns during his four seasons at Illinois, said he has always had good hands. He attributes that to playing catch with his father when he was a little kid, which wasn’t easy for him.
“I remember my younger days when my dad and I would play catch in the back yard, he would beam it at me,” Hoomanawanui said. “When I was younger, I would cry and ask him to slow it down, but I guess it would help me in the long run. (It hit me) in the chest, face, you name it. Being five years old and trying to catch a fastball isn’t that easy. I guess it paid off.”
The payoff could come soon if Hoomanawanui is able to not only make the Rams roster but also earn the nod as the team’s starting tight end.
“If you’re going to be in this league, you can’t take that back-seat approach, so you’ve got to get out and want to play,” he said. “This guy over here, (points to fellow tight end Fells) we’re competing, and I expect the same from him and everyone else. There’s five of us fighting for a couple positions, so you’ve got to bring your best every day.”