By Nick Wagoner

Rare is the player who actually looks forward to the start of training camp. Even rarer is the player who voluntarily shows up to camp early just to have the opportunity to practice three times with a group of 31 rookies.

But that’s exactly what tight end Michael Hoomanawanui spent the past three days doing as he finally made his return to the practice field after a long and arduous recovery process from a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament suffered in November of last season.

And, strange as it may sound, Hoomanawanui couldn’t wait to get back on the practice field in the oppressive heat.

“The trainers and I were just joking yesterday that it was honestly hard for me to sleep, like Christmas,” Hoomanawanui said. “When something is taken away from you for nine months, something you are used to doing each and every day, something that you love to do, it’s definitely hard so I am excited. That’s a pretty good word for it.”

Hoomanawanui suffered the torn ACL in a win against Cleveland in week 10 of last season. The injury cut a season short for Hoomanawanui for the second season in as many attempts in his young career and continued to derail a career that had been full of promise since the Rams drafted him in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

In his rookie season, Hoomanawanui played in just eight games because of a high ankle sprain after a preseason in which he had emerged as a favorite target of quarterback Sam Bradford. Slowed by a head injury in last year’s camp, Hoomanawanui was again limited to eight games.

For his two seasons in the league, Hoomanawanui has been able to play in just half of a possible 32 games, posting 20 catches for 229 yards and three touchdowns. Considering his immense talent and versatility, it’s hard not to look at that as a disappointment but with a new regime in charge including new head coach Jeff Fisher, the slate has been wiped clean for Hoomanawanui.

“Yeah, he was a very talented player in college and unfortunately he has just had the injury setbacks, but if he can get it behind him then he can be a very productive player for you,” Fisher said. “He’s a very smart, instinctive tight end.”

With that intelligence and those instincts as his base, Hoomanawanui rededicated himself this offseason in an effort to reshape his body to better stand up to the rigors of the NFL.

Considering his injury prevented him from being able to run and exercise as much as he’d like, Hoomanawanui significantly altered his diet. He joined a home delivery meal service that provides gluten free, healthy meals three times a day.
In addition, Hoomanawanui spent nearly every day working with either his personal trainer or Rams athletic trainer Tyler Williams in an effort to get healthy but also to improve his conditioning.

Hoomanawanui was cleared to run back in the spring but not to resume football activities. When the Rams configured their training camp schedule, Hoomanawanui targeted the rookie practices before the full squad reported as an opportunity to get re-acclimated before jumping into training camp.

“Yeah he asked if he could come,” Fisher said. “We talked about it, because we’re permitted to bring injured players out here, but most everybody is healed up. In his case it’s a real good idea to ease him back in to get the confidence on the knee and he’s really done a good job. He’s been running, he did great in the conditioning test. He’s worked hard and he appears to be back for good. It will be very competitive at that position with him back.”

Hoomanawanui’s hard work and new eating habits clearly paid off. When he arrived back at the ContinuityX Training Center early this week, he checked in at 262 pounds and had trimmed from 14 percent body fat down to about 10 percent.

“I didn’t want to have any excuse when I got back out here so conditioning, body fat percentage, my weight, I had to take all those into consideration,” Hoomanawanui said. “Not being able to go out there and run, you have to watch what you eat each and every day. When I was healthy and able to play, it’s something I was conscious of but this offseason I really took it to the next level.”

Hoomanawanui gave his own medical clearance to himself about two weeks ago but wasn’t officially cleared by team physician Dr. Matt Matava until Tuesday of this week.

Upon reporting to the training facility, Hoomanawanui took part in the team’s conditioning test and passed it so easily that he joked with the coaching staff and trainers that he should head to London to participate in some track events at the Olympics.

“I dropped my body fat and came out here and did the conditioning test and killed it,” Hoomanawanui said. “It’s a totally different me and I love it. Hopefully it will work for me and we’ll put everything else in the big man’s hands upstairs but I did everything I could.”

The leaner and stronger Hoomanawanui is well aware that he’s entering training camp for what figures to be one of this camp’s most intense position battles. Aside from second-year Lance Kendricks, there is quite a bit of uncertainty at tight end.

Hoomanawanui might be the most well-rounded of the Rams’ tight ends. His talent has never been in question but the health issues have continued to hold him back.

One thing that should help Hoomanawanui is the fact that new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer brings a similar offensive scheme to the one Hoomanawanui played in under Pat Shurmur in his rookie season.

That has made the transition to this offense easier and has Hoomanawanui confident that his mental aptitude in the offense will be up to the standard of his physical condition.

“I love it,” Hoomanawanui said. “It’s going back to pretty much the first year, it’s different terminology but we are doing what we did when we first came in here. I know Sam loves it, I know all the other guys like it, the offseason most definitely helped. I think everyone is excited for this year. It’s a different feel for all the coaches. It’s going to be a fun year.”

For the most part, Hoomanawanui’s injuries have come down to old fashioned bad luck. But he hasn’t let that get him down and he’s not allowing the impending competition in what will be a very important training camp for him to affect his approach.

After all, he’s due a break or two, isn’t he?

“(Probably) six, seven breaks,” Hoomanawanui said. “They say the third time is the charm so maybe that will stick with me. But I am not going to worry about that. I am going to go out there and play. I’m blessed to even be able to play; this is the best game in the world. So that’s the outlook I have these days and I’m going to go until the wheels fall off.”