Former Hahnville and Kansas Jayhawks star Pooka Williams has signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, joining former LSU Tigers Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase up north.
Williams, who opted out of the 2020 football season midseason, citing a desire to be close to home to tend to a family matter, was hoping to hear his name called during the three day draft event. While that moment never came, a call from the NFL ultimately did, and with it the chance Williams was waiting for, the chance he says is all he wanted.
“I’m just ready to get to work and start proving a lot of people wrong,” said Williams.
He joins a Bengals backfield led by Joe Mixon. The Bengals lost third down and change of pace rusher Giovani Bernard to Tampa Bay this offseason, and Williams’ skillset makes him a contender to potentially fill that role. He signed shortly after the conclusion of the NFL Draft.
Williams said as the draft unfolded, he didn’t have a specific expectation of when, if or where he’d be selected, though he had talked to several teams. Leading up to the draft, many analysts were projecting Williams as a Day 3 (rounds 4-7) selection or a priority undrafted free agent – he was a popular choice for many as a late-round sleeper. Several conversations with the San Francisco 49ers had positioned them as among the more likely destinations, but it wasn’t to be.
Williams said he knew one way or another, however, his chance was coming.
“I was kind of numb to it as it was going on, because I knew once I got the opportunity I was going to take full advantage,” he said. “So I wasn’t showing a lot of emotion, I was just waiting to see what was next.”
Like the 49ers, the Bengals spoke to Williams leading up to the draft, and ultimately it represented a strong match for both sides.
“I really liked the coaching staff. They had a plan and let me know I’d have an equal chance to compete and earn a chance to play,” Williams said, adding he’s excited to join a roster with his former Kansas teammate and offensive lineman Hakeem Adeniji and Chase, his close friend and former teammate with the Louisiana Bootleggers 7-on-7 team.
“I’m looking forward to going there to compete for a spot, and I’m not going out without a fight,” he added. “I’m really glad for this opportunity and I’m ready to get to it.”
Williams rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons at Kansas, including a true freshman year that saw him average an eye-popping 7.0 yards a carry. He scored 14 combined rushing and receiving touchdowns over the two year span.
In 2020, Kansas’ offense struggled, and Williams’ production suffered. The 5’10, 170 pound running back rushed for 198 yards and two touchdowns on 51 carries prior to stepping away from the program. His final week at Kansas came with accolades, however, as he was named the Big 12 Conference’s Special Teams Player of the Week after a game in which he returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown at West Virginia.
During Williams’ senior season at Hahnville, he cemented a lasting legacy. He led Hahnville to the 2017 Class 5A championship game in a season he took the prep world by storm in Louisiana, rushing for nearly 1,500 yards in the postseason alone and more than 3,000 on the season. It represented the highest single season rushing total in Louisiana’s prep football history. He scored 40 touchdowns that year and was named Louisiana’s Mr. Football.