Fighting Illini Tight End Hoomanawanui Doesn't Skirt His Hawaiian Ancestry

Junior TE Michael Hoomanawanui
Junior TE Michael Hoomanawanui

Sept. 17, 2008

by Lauren Benson, Illinois Sports Information

His last name strikes fear in announcers from coast to coast with some, like Big Ten Network analysts Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith, choosing to refer to him simply as "Mike." Even his Illinois coaches and teammates have shortened it to "Uh-Oh."

Although his last name may be hard to pronounce, Michael Hoomanawanui is far from confusing. The 6-5, 274-pound starting Illini tight end from Bloomington lives by simple, yet powerful, fundamentals that guide his life on and off the field.

"My parents taught me basic life lessons, like family always comes first, and you should always respect your elders," he said. "Basically, just that nothing is more important than family."

These essential core values are influenced immensely by his Hawaiian heritage. Michael's father, Isy, a former player at Illinois State, is a native Hawaiian from the east side of the islands in Waimanalo. His father's family still lives there, and Michael sees them about once a year.

"When we go back to Hawaii it's nice because we don't stay at hotels, we just stay with family," he said. "The whole time we are there, we spend our time hanging out with family and doing family things."

Michael admits that he was not always so proud of his heritage. When he was younger, he said he took it for granted and did not find it as important as he does now because he was so geographically distant from Hawaii.

Michael Hoomanawanui led the Illini with five catches for 74 yards in last Saturday's victory over Louisiana-Lafayette.

But as Michael grew up, he started to embrace his heritage. And as he began college, his love for his roots became visibly obvious. Michael started to grow out his hair towards the end of his senior year at Central Catholic High School in Bloomington. He was restricted to do so beforehand due to team rules of his high school football team. Once he entered college, he started to get a collection of tattoos that all relate to either his family or his Hawaiian heritage.

"On my right shoulder is an aumakua, which is the family protector. And under that tattoo is my sister's name (Maggie)," he said. "On my left shoulder I have shark teeth, which represent my dad, mom (Anne), sister, family, and friends. Below that is a shark, which again represents the family protector. I also have a turtle shell that defends evil spirits. On my back I have the Hawaiian islands."

Hoomanawanui's Hawaiian heritage can also be seen through a certain item of clothing he commonly wears. While many college men would be reluctant to wear anything but pants or shorts, Hoomanawanui proudly strides around campus in a traditional Hawaiian skirt called a kikepa.

"I wore it a little bit in high school, but I really started to wear it a lot in college," he said. "The first time I wore it in college was my freshman year at Camp Rantoul. I was never unsure about wearing it. My teammates have really embraced the skirt and a lot of them have actually asked me to get one for them."

The values he has learned from his Hawaiian heritage have also positively affected his relationship with his teammates. The teammates that he grew up playing football with are still some of his closest friends today, including former high school and current Illini teammate defensive tackle Josh Brent. Because football is a team sport, he considers each of his teammates a member of his family. And, as his Hawaiian values have taught him, nothing is more important than family.

As far as football goes, Hoomanawanui listed several personal goals for this season. He wants to help the younger players and become more of a leader on the team.

But Hoomanawanui visibly brightened when listing his last goal. Many will see this goal as the hardest to attain, but Illini fans know that this aspiration is one that is certainly not out of reach for him.

"To be the best tight end in the conference," he said.

Michael Hoomanawanui may be best known for his last name. Or some fans may know him as the player with the long hair and unique tattoos. But this season, Illini fans hope opponents are saying "Uh-Oh" when No. 16 catches a touchdown pass or makes a key block to spring a teammate for the end zone.