Sunday, August 1, 2010

Rams Have High Hopes For 'Uh-Oh'

St. Louis Rams rookie tight end Michael Hoomanawanui attributes his soft hands to some tough pass-catching drills with his father.

"I remember in my younger days when me and my dad would play catch in the backyard, he would beam it at me," Hoomanawanui said. "When I was younger, I would cry. I would tell him to slow down. I guess it paid off in the long run."

Hoomanawanui's father, Isy, was a former linebacker at Illinois State. So not all of those rocket throws hit off the younger Hoomanawanui's hands.

The 6-foot-4, 264-pound Hoomanawanui (pronounced Ho-of-muh-now-wa-new-e) was a fifth-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft out of the University of Illinois. He went by the nickname "Uh-oh" in college.

Hoomanawanui's receiving skills caught the attention of Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo on the first day of training camp.

"I was watching (film) last night, and he's a very natural catcher, I think," Spagnuolo said. "He has done a lot of that at Illinois, and obviously he was very successful at it. That sticks right out, but there is a lot going in to playing tight end in the NFL, so he has a lot to learn. He's an eager guy."

 The Rams are counting on having both Hoomanawanui and rookie Fendi Onobun, a sixth-round pick in the 2010 NFL draft, contribute this season.

"We're very hopeful with those two guys, Mike and Fendi," Spagnuolo said. "They flashed. They do some good things. Like every rookie, they made some mistakes, but up to this point, (tight ends coach) Frank (Leonard), offensive coordinator Pat (Shurmur) and myself have a little bit of excitement about those two guys. We'll see where they go from here."

Hoomanawanui said he realizes that the competition for the starting job at tight end is wide open. The other candidates are Daniel Fells and Billy Bajema, who both saw playing time last season for the Rams, and Darcy Johnson, who played in 13 games last season for the New York Giants.

"Coach let's us know that every day," Hoomanawanui said. "It definitely is in the back of our minds. You just have to worry about yourself and do what you're supposed to do and everything will fall into place."

Hoomanawanui caught 40 passes for 490 yards and four touchdowns over his final three seasons with the Illini.

He was known for his blocking in the running game, and he was looking forward to the Rams putting on full pads.

"Football is a game played with pads and helmets. You have to use them," Hoomanawanui said.

On his left hand, Hoomanawanui has a tattoo of "4-24-10," the date he was drafted by the Rams.

On his right hand, he has a tattoo of the word, "Blessed."

Hoomanawanui said the tattoos serve as a reminder of how fortunate he has been.

"I pinch myself every day when I wake up, and that's no exaggeration," Hoomanawanui said. "There are people all around the world who would like to be in our position right now."

Hoomanawanui's parents live in Bloomington, but his family originally hails from Hawaii. He visited relatives on the Island of Oahu during his summer break from the Rams.

Despite his Hawaiian roots, Hoomanawanui is not a surfer.

"I've tried it, it's hard," Hoomanawanui said. "I boogie board, that's about it."

Hoomanawanui may be the first Rams player to bring a ukulele to training camp.

"Am I? Nobody else? Manumaleuna?" Hoomanawanui said, referring to former Rams tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. "Well, mark me down."

Hoomanawanui might incorporate the ukulele into any rookie song that he's forced to sing in the traditional NFL hazing.

"We're thinking about it," Hoomanawanui said. "We're trying to get some other guys involved in it and see if we can come up with something kind of cool."

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