FOXBORO - Life is good for Michael Hoomanawanui these days.
The Patriots' tight end, entering his fifth NFL season, has had quite the offseason. He's flown with the Blue Angels, he's getting married at the start of July, and he signed a new contract last month that will keep him a Patriot this year and next.
And guess what? Right now, he's the starter - at least as long as it seems that Rob Gronkowski will still be rehabbing his surgically-repaired right knee possibly into the regular season.
"Hooman," as Patriots' fans have come to know him, seems to be taking his depth-chart status in stride.
"I've still got to wake up every morning, come to work, put on my hard hat and get it done," he said Thursday morning, meeting with reporters for about 10 minutes as part of the offseason conditioning program. "It's definitely a thought, but not much more than that. Like I said, I've still got to wake up every morning, come to work, and make my spot on the team."
The Patriots are about to enter another phase of their offseason. After the Memorial Day weekend, they will begin their "organized team activities" or OTAs, which involve more field work with the position coaches. For Hoomanawanui, those workouts could be the means by which he prepares for a possibly expanded role, at least until Gronk is deemed ready to return.
Regardless of the circumstance, Hoomanawanui said he wouldn't mind more touches.
"Who doesn't want to be that guy? I spent a lot of time this offseason looking at, quote unquote, the best tight ends in the league," he said. "Hopefully we can learn from that, myself and the other guys. Anything you can put in that toolbox, I'm definitely looking to do. Obviously, my role in the passing game hasn't been what Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski have done. But it's definitely something I've been working on, and hopefully it can be a part of this season."
Hoomanawanui said he appreciated the new contract as a show of confidence from ownership and head coach Bill Belichick. He said it's validation of the hard work he has put in since joining the Patriots as a free agent two Septembers ago, picking the brains of other players in order to find ways to improve himself - and now, he's trying to pass along that knowledge and experience to others.
"Just learning from them each and every day, just learning their work ethics, seeing the time they put in, (has) definitely helped me to grow and kind of take on that leadership role and show the younger guys how it's done," he said. "It's not easy to play in this league, let alone here especially in our offense. It's not the easiest thing, but once you get it you can be very valuable to this team and this offense. So I'm just trying to give that to all the new guys coming in and trying to show them the way."
Amid all the hard work, Hoomanawanui has had time to enjoy himself. Earlier this spring, he and St. Louis Rams' punter Johnny Hekker flew with the U.S. Navy's precision aviators, the Blue Angels, in El Centro, Calif. Navy Lt. Ryan Chamberlain, who piloted Hoomanawanui's flight, hails from the tight end's high school alma mater in Bloomington, Ill.
"The Blue Angels experience is something I've been wanting to do for a long time and had the opportunity to do it," he said. "I went up there for about 45 minutes, flew around. (They) showed me what their daily life is like. It's neat to compare to us, being part of a team, the daily routine that they go through. It was pretty cool and something I will definitely cherish for the rest of my life."
He's also understandably overjoyed to be having his wedding in Hawaii, where his fiancee is from. But after that, it will be a short honeymoon and time to get back to work, with a couple of new position coaches to deal with - Brian Daboll with the tight ends and Dave DiGuglielmo with the offensive line.
George Godsey, last year's tight ends coach, is now coaching quarterbacks in Houston with the Texans' new head coach, former Patriots' offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien.
"He gave me a different perspective, from him playing quarterback in college and then coaching us as tight ends," Hoomanawanui said of Godsey's influence. "He definitely gave us looks through a different set of eyes, what the quarterbacks were seeing and that progression on each and every play. It definitely helped. I wish him the best of luck, and I appreciate everything he did for us here."
Daboll, he said, has "a little different style than I'm used to, but (he's) very energetic, he's very in-your-face, and he's going to get the best out of you. He's been around for a long time and he's coached a lot of great players, so we're very excited about having him."
The tight ends interact with the offensive linemen in run-blocking schemes, so Hoomanawanui is also experiencing the transition from the retired Dante Scarnecchia to DiGuglielmo, formerly with the Jets.
"He's very in-your-face, too very loud, but that's good," Hoomanawanui said. "I think he's going to get the best out of his players as well. We'll spend the first couple of parts of practice with him, working on various things with him since we're in-line a lot.
"I'm excited about it," he added.