Right place, right time. That's the goal for all of us, but especially those who play a sport. Know where to go and get there efficiently.

Michael Hoomanawanui always seemed to be there. You remember that about him as a tight end and defensive end at Central Catholic High School.

It made sense. He grew up in the game, with his father, Isy, having played at Illinois State and served as a Saints' assistant coach.

Young Michael was a water boy/ball boy in the early sightings, tagging along to practices and helping on the sidelines on game nights. Even then, when the coaches screamed "Water!" or "Ball!" he seemed to have it in hand or know where to get it.

"As early as I can remember when Isy was coaching, Michael would come," said Bobby Moews, Hoomanawanui's head coach at Central. "He's been around it (football) his whole life really."

Later, in a Central uniform, Hoomanawanui rarely appeared out of position. He chased down quarterbacks and running backs, typically anticipating where they were headed. On offense, he blocked when called upon and caught passes like no one we'd seen in The Pantagraph sports department.

At 6-foot-4, he was a big target. He ran good routes, got himself open despite being the focal point of enemy defenses. Beyond that, he caught everything near him, on multiple occasions while leaping with one hand extended toward the night sky.

Was it "right place, right time?" Yes, or close enough.

We bring this up because Hoomanawanui's instincts and intellect for the game seemed as essential to his success as his size and athleticism. He seemed to think like a coach and now, he is one.

Sort of.

A concussion suffered in August put Hoomanawanui on injured reserve all season with the New Orleans Saints. He has had multiple ones in his nine-year NFL career as a tight end and will become a free agent in March. At 30, his future as a player is uncertain.

However, during what might have been a lost season, Hoomanawanui has served as an unofficial assistant tight ends coach. Saints head coach Sean Payton suggested the role shortly after Hoomanawanui was injured and recently told Josh Katzenstein of The Times-Picayune that Hoomanawanui has been experiencing the long hours and late nights of NFL coaching.

"We've had him up in the offensive meetings, and, man, he's hanging in there," Payton told Katzenstein. "There's some dark circles under his eyes right now, but he's still standing.

"I love what Mike brings. He's a throwback player. He's tough. I think he's well-respected. I know he is in the locker room. He's one of those guys you want around."

That may be news elsewhere. Here, it merely confirms that Hoomanawanui has not changed since he was running water out to a Central Catholic huddle or catching last-second touchdown passes.

His feel for the game has stayed true, serving him well at the University of Illinois and with the Rams, Patriots and Saints in the NFL. 

"He always knew where he was supposed to be and knew his assignments," Moews said. "He knew what he was doing and was expecting everybody else to do the same. He was one of those guys you would think would be a good coach someday.

"I think that's helped him keep a job in the NFL. He knows what the idea and the thought of the play is and what's supposed to happen. They (coaches) can know they can count on him on the field. I'm sure Coach Payton probably saw that in him."

Hoomanawanui was traded to New Orleans in 2015 after winning a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots. His plan was to be on the field this year for the Saints' championship quest, but his impact has come largely in the shadows, mentoring young tight ends.

There has been talk about how 40-year-old Saints quarterback Drew Brees has a chance to win a second Super Bowl and add to his Hall of Fame resume. Hoomanawanui isn't on a Hall of Fame track, but a second Super Bowl ring would be a fitting reward for all that he has invested in football.

It's enough to make you a Saints fan Sunday when New Orleans plays host to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game. 

Hoomanawanui may not desire to make coaching a long-term pursuit, but with his background, knowledge and personality, he is well-equipped for the job. If nothing else, this season has exposed him to the possibility.

Could be he is in the right place, right time.


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Contact Randy Kindred at (309) 820-3402. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_kindred


Sports Editor

Sports editor for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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