FOXBOROUGH — He’s never going to be the biggest name among the Patriots tight ends.
And that’s not easy when your name is Hoomanawanui.
He’s not going to have the biggest personality in the group, either.
Both honors belong to Rob Gronkowski, and that’s just fine with Michael Hoomanawanui, who does own the longest — and hardest to pronounce — name in the group.
While Gronkowski gets most of the attention — and most of the catches — Hoomanawanui is more in the shadows, quietly doing his thing, lining up anywhere and everywhere to ward off bigger players, and protecting Tom Brady and throwing blocks for his running backs and receivers.
As an example of the difference in popularity between Gronkowski and Hoomanawanui, consider a scene from Saturday’s morning practice:
As Brady began working with the tight ends, Gronkowski was up first, running a simple route with no defense on the field. When Gronkowski snagged Brady’s offering, a huge cheer erupted.
Seconds later, Hoomanawanui ran the same route and made the same catch to a smattering of applause.
Such is life for the man whose last name would drive even the most seasoned “Hooked on Phonics” instructors (and Phil Simms) to turn in their retirement papers.
For the record, it’s pronounced “Ho-oh-mah-nah-wah-noo-wee,’’ but he’s affectionately known as “Hooman.”
One person who doesn’t overlook Hoomanawanui’s contributions is coach Bill Belichick, who plucked the 6-foot-4-inch, 265-pounder off the unemployment line after he was cut by the Rams out of camp in 2012.
“Mike has been really dependable for us, been very consistent,’’ said Belichick. “He’s very smart. He’s able to handle a lot of different assignments depending on who the other tight ends are, depending on what we want him to do. He’s a pretty versatile player, and he’s been durable and dependable through the years for us.’’
One thing that has greatly impressed Belichick about Hoomanawanui is his ability to flourish in any situation.
“He makes adjustments quickly and understands what’s going on, so if we need to change or adapt or make some type of adjustment, he’s good at that,’’ Belichick said. “A lot of formationing is done by the tight end, and therefore their assignments are based on a lot of different things — defensive ends, linebackers, safeties — there’s really a lot for them to recognize at that position that fluctuates quite a bit. I’d say he does a good job of all that.’’
Hoomanawanui (which means “to be patient’’ in Hawaiian) remembers the time when he was new to the Patriots’ sometimes daunting offense. He credits putting in the time and the work as reasons he got up to speed so fast.
“First day I got here it was obviously a little rough, but you learn new things each and every day,’’ said Hoomanawanui, who started 14 games last season, including the Super Bowl win over Seattle. “Something I pride myself on is putting my head in the book and learning everything.
“Being a tight end in this system you have to be willing to do everything. And whether you get one catch or 10 catches, numbers don’t matter. A win is all that matters.’’
Despite the bevy of tight ends that have come through the locker room during his time in Foxborough, Hoomanawanui never has felt threatened.
He sees it as a “the more the merrier” situation in which everyone can learn from each other. If there’s competition, it’s a friendly competition in which everyone is pulling for teammates.
There’s too much work to be done to waste time looking over your shoulder.
“[Competition] is the nature of this business,’’ said Hoomanawanui, 27, who has 40 career catches for 518 yards and four touchdowns. “Someone could get hurt and then it’s next man up. Obviously there’s competition and competition makes everyone better, so we embrace it and we have a good room right now.’’
Asked what it’s like to share that room with Gronkowski, who seems to own every room he enters, Hoomanawanui smiled.
“He’s great,’’ said Hoomanawanui. “I tease him. He’s a goofy guy but he’s a great player, obviously. I tell everyone, he comes in and gets his work done first. There’s always time to play, but we all get our work done first.’’
With several tight ends missing time over the last week, Hoomanawanui, who considers himself a quiet leader on and off the field (“I’m not a big talker,’’ he said), has gotten a lot of work — especially as a pass catcher.
He welcomes the reps and said no matter who’s barking signals, whether it’s Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo, the Patriots are in good hands.
“Both are great quarterbacks,’’ said Hoomanawanui. “Obviously Tom’s been doing it a lot longer, but Jimmy’s out here getting better every day.’’
In fact, Hoomanawanui said the same could be said for everyone on the field.
“Everybody’s working hard for one common goal and that’s to help this team win,’’ he said.Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.