After a dominant season — and postseason — that saw him lead Hahnville to its state first championship game appearance since 2003, senior Anthony “Pooka” Williams brought the speculation to an end Friday morning as he officially signed his letter of intent to play for the University of Kansas.
Williams finished 2017 with 3,108 rushing yards on 314 carries for an average of nearly 10 yards per carry, standing as one of the highest totals in state history. He scored 40 total touchdowns and doubled as one of the state’s most dangerous returners. He rushed for over 200 yards in each of his five postseason games, including three games over the 300 yard mark.
He announced last Thursday night that he would announce his choice the next morning, and that it would be between Kansas, LSU and Nebraska.
Williams committed to Kansas in February after taking a visit to the school, but many thought the running back might eventually decommit in favor of signing with a traditional football power — Kansas is a building program under head coach David Beaty, who took over the program in 2015 and went 1-11 last season.
But when the time came to put pen to paper, Williams said he felt in his heart he can help turn things around at Kansas and that the school was the right fit for him.
“I stayed true to my commitment. It was hard, but I decided to be a man of my word,” Williams said. “It’s family. They treated me like family and talked to me like I was one of theirs.”
While his senior season has been the one that made Williams a virtual household name for those who follow recruiting locally, he has long been highly thought of at the next level. Williams earned an offer from Tulane in 2015 before ever making a varsity start at Hahnville, after a strong performance at that school’s recruiting camp. His name was also linked to the University of Alabama and University of Miami in recent weeks.
Williams said that he gave strong consideration to LSU and Nebraska and that either was “close” to pulling him away, but that he couldn’t bring himself to change his destination.
“It wasn’t really a surprise … I think he’s always felt that Kansas vibe,” said Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio. “It’s what he wanted to do. I think much like he did here with Hahnville, where he reestablished us as a (Class) 5A power, I think he wants to do the same at Kansas. I think he believes he can go up to Kansas and help them be a force.”
Two days earlier, Kansas signed Corione Harris of Landry-High School, which was KU’s first-ever signing of a player ranked in the Rivals.com national Top 100. He and Williams were two of six players from Louisiana to commit to Kansas earlier this year.
Part of the school’s newfound recruiting influence in the state has been cultivated by Tony Hull, former head coach of Warren Easton and the Jayhawks’ current running backs coach. Hull guided Warren Easton to a championship game appearance in 2014 and state semifinal in 2015. He joined the Kansas staff this year.
Williams said his relationship with Hull “played a big role” in his decision.
He smiled when asked if he thought he could help bring Kansas into prominence.
“Of course I feel I can,” he said. “I’m expecting it to be like Hahnville. They want me to be an all-around athlete for them … my mindset is if we play as a team, we can change things.”
He added criticisms of his decision don’t bother him, as he feels he’s made the right call for himself.
“I took everything into consideration, but at the end of the day, they’re not going to be at the college, I’m gonna be at the college. It had to be my decision,” he said.
Saltaformaggio said he thinks Williams can make a major impact at the collegiate level.
“He’s going into the right conference for his skill set, a spread offensive conference … he should put up some electric numbers,” Saltaformaggio said. “A lot comes down to supporting cast, you have to have good guys around you, and he did at Hahnville. Hopefully he can stay healthy and continue to make good life choices, because I think the world can be his if he wants it.”