CHAMPAIGN - The adrenaline was flowing for Michael Hoomanawanui. Six months after committing to the University of Illinois, the Central Catholic High School football star finally got to make it official Wednesday.
So when the 6-foot-5, 230-pound tight end faxed his signed national letter of intent to the Illini, he called Coach Ron Zook.
Soon, the adrenaline was pumping on both ends.
"It gets me going when I hear his voice," Zook said later Wednesday. "Michael has been around us an awful lot. He's been to camps and to a lot of our games and to basketball games here, and he is so excited about coming to the University of Illinois.
"He knows he's going to have an opportunity here. Michael stayed the course and never wavered."
Hoomanawanui gave Illinois an oral commitment in August. He then caught 50 passes for 843 yards and 12 touchdowns, making a number of spectacular, one-handed catches.
He also had 139 tackles and eight sacks in leading the Saints to the Class 4A quarterfinals. Meanwhile, Illinois was going 2-9 in Zook's first season, ending with a nine-game losing streak.
Hoomanawanui stood firm, and was among a 28-member recruiting class Wednesday highlighted by quarterback Isiah "Juice" Williams of Chicago Vocational.
"As we started in the recruiting process, I never thought I'd be playing for Illinois," Hoomanawanui said. "It was always kind of Purdue, Purdue, Purdue. But as we went through it and I got to know the coaches, it (Illinois) was a perfect match for me."
Zook called Hoomanawanui "a very, very athletic guy" who is tailor-made for the tight end/H-back spot in the Illini offense.
"He's a powerful guy - an explosive guy, and he does have soft hands," Zook said. "He's a big guy who can run and a tough guy who can block. That's a position in our offense that can really be productive."
Hoomanawanui was rated the No. 40 tight end in the country and a three-star recruit by Rivals. He earned first-team all-state honors from the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Champaign News-Gazette, and shortly after the season, presented video evidence to the Illini coaches.
"A good friend made a highlight film for me and I gave it to Coach Dawson (assistant coach Dino Dawson)," Hoomanawanui said. "When he showed it to the other coaches, I saw some jaws drop. I think that's a good sign."
The Illini recruiting class was ranked fourth in the Big Ten Conference and 30th nationally by Rivals. The headliner is the 6-2, 207-pound Williams, who was ranked among the top five senior quarterbacks nationally by SI and Rivals.
He passed for 1,841 yards and 22 touchdowns this past season, and also rushed for 1,441 yards and 17 TDs.
"He reminds me a lot of a guy we had at Florida, Chris Leak," Zook said. "He's very athletic and very humble. He's just a leader.
"Until you put them in that environment, you just don't know. But I think he'll have a chance to come in and compete early. For our program to get where it needs to go - you have to have a trigger."
Another key man figures to be 6-7, 320-pound offensive tackle Akim Millington, a transfer from Oklahoma who was born in Trinidad. The former Wheaton North star left Oklahoma in August following the death of his cousin.
Millington redshirted at Oklahoma in 2003, played in four games as a backup tackle in 2004 (including the national title game), and had won the starting job last year before leaving the team. He has been granted permission from the NCAA to play this year because of the circumstances surrounding his transfer.
"He's a guy who's been there and done that," Zook said. "He knows what it's all about. He has the leadership and maturity you have to have with a young team."
Zook's first full recruiting class includes two junior college players - defensive back Justin Sanders and linebacker Antonio Steele - who signed in December and are on campus.
Williams, tight end Jeff Cumberland of Columbus, Ohio, defensive back Chris Duvalt of Lakeland, Fla., receiver Chris James of Chicago Morgan Park, linebacker Rahkeem Smith of Chatham, Va., and receiver Marques Wilkins of Decatur MacArthur were four-star recruits by Rivals.
The 6-4, 230-pound Cumberland joins Hoomanawanui as an athletic tight end, having turned in the best 40-yard dash and vertical leap among tight ends at the Los Angeles NIKE Training Camp.
"I don't think there's any question you'll see some of these guys playing (next year)," Zook said. "It went exactly the way we thought it would two days ago, but until the faxes come across, you never know.
"I told my wife at 5:15 this morning that if we're not worried (about losing recruits to other schools), we're not recruiting the right guys. There were concerns right to the end, but there were no surprises. That may be the biggest surprise, that there were no surprises."
See Scoreboard for list of recruits