Years at KU: 2018-present
Career Stats: 364 carries, 2,186 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns; 60 receptions, 503 receiving yards, 4 receiving touchdowns
Best Season: 2018; 161 carries, 1,115 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns, 33 receptions, 289 yards, two receiving touchdowns
Accolades: 2020 Maxwell Award Preseason Watch List, Preseason Fourth Team All-American (Phil Steele), and Preseason All-Big 12 First Team; 2019 First Team All-Big 12; 2018 Freshman All-America all purpose (FWAA, The Athletic). All-America Second Team all-purpose (FWAA), Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year (coaches), All-Big 12 First Team (coaches, AP), Big 12 Newcomer of the Year (AP), All-Big 12 Second Team running back (AP)
There was plenty of hype around Pooka Williams coming into Lawrence. That’s what happens when you’re the fourth-highest-rated recruit in the history of the program, according to 24/7 Sports (and third highest to actually play as Keon Coleman has not yet stepped foot on campus). Halfway through his career, the hype was warranted.
Even if he never took another snap as a Jayhawk (worst-case scenario for KU fans), his career is already one of the best in Kansas history. After just two years he sits No. 12 all time in rushing yards (just 53 yards behind Jake Sharp and 59 yards behind Jon Cornish) and his 6.0 yards per carry is fourth amongst backs with more than 100 carries (Laverne Smith, Gale Sayers, and Mark Sanders). Then add it in that he’s on his way to also being a 1,000-yard receiver by the end of his career, and Pooka is an offensive cheat code.
Off-the-field issues put his career in jeopardy last year when he was suspended from the team for seven months during the offseason, and then the first game of the 2019 season, following a domestic battery charge and diversion. He also missed the first game of his career against Nichols State for a “non-disciplinary matter.”
Pooka has made the most of his time on the field. He hit the ground running, rushing for 125 and two TDs and 163 and one TD in his first two collegiate games, both averaging more than eight yards a carry.
Pooka’s future is uncertain because college football’s future is uncertain. He’s already getting draft buzz—Pro Football Network profiled him as a sleeper in the 2021 draft and CBS Sports had Williams in its top 100 draft picks back in April—and who knows what would happen if there’s no season and he is able to leave for the NFL. But if he stays two more years, there’s a likely chance he leaves as the Jayhawks’ all-time leading rusher. Williams is 1,656 yards away from first place, meaning if he played all 12 games each of the next two years, he would need to average just 69 yards a game. Mike discussed more of Pooka’s chances at history back in June.
Nov. 17, 2018 vs Oklahoma; 15 carries for 252 yards and two rushing TDs, three receptions for 18 yards, one pass completion for nine yards and a TD
Pooka has had some incredible performances (at Texas and at Iowa State last year, against Rutgers in 2018) but his best has to be the Oklahoma game.
It wasn’t just that he rushed for more than 250 yards against the No. 6-ranked team in the country. It’s that it only took him 15 carries. For those doing the math at home, that’s 16.8 yards per carry. Oklahoma’s defense was never perceived to be great, but that is still dominant by any measure.
And when rushing became too easy for Williams, he tried his hand at passing and went 1-1 with a touchdown. Gotta keep things interesting.
YouTube is filled with highlight clips of Pooka changing direction, outrunning defensive backs, and making linebackers look like they’re running on ice trying to tackle him. It doesn’t look like a fun experience for opposing defenses.
It’s also bittersweet for KU’s own defenders who have to go up against him every day in practice, as Joe Dineen pointed out following the 252-yard Oklahoma showcase.
“Obviously practicing against Pooka kind of sucks because he can make you look really stupid and then you go and watch film and see how stupid you really do look,” Dineen said. “But I’m glad he’s a Jayhawk, and like I said, I’m really excited to watch him play and grow over the next couple years.”
No one is immune from the Pooka Magic, but other Kansas defensive players likely share Dineen’s sentiment that he’s glad Williams is on his team.