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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Keegan

Tom Keegan: Pooka Williams worth price of admission

Kansas running back Pooka Williams Jr. carries the ball against Central Michigan during a game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Mount Pleasant, Mich. (Jim Lahde/The Morning Sun via AP)

Kansas running back Pooka Williams Jr. carries the ball against Central Michigan during a game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Mount Pleasant, Mich. (Jim Lahde/The Morning Sun via AP)

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Mount Pleasant, Mich. — Debuting Kansas freshman running back Anthony “Pooka” Williams killed more than a nine-year road losing streak late Saturday afternoon, so far from his hometown of Marrero, La.

He also, at the very least, put on hold the apathy of a football fan base that had grown weary of the annual exercise of hearing all about talented newcomers during the spring and summer, only to be underwhelmed when the curtain came up on their KU careers.

In one afternoon and with just 14 carries, Williams set himself apart from that crowd by rushing for 125 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns late in the third quarter on breathtaking sprints of 20 and 41 yards. He also turned his one reception into an 8-yard gain.

Williams has given Kansas football fans a reason to care, maybe even a sense of urgency to want to go see him perform in person. To do otherwise would be to run the risk of being left out of the conversation.

Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff vs. Rutgers at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium represents the first opportunity to see Williams play at home.

Throughout camp, teammates and coaches portrayed the speedy back in a way they did not talk about anyone else on the roster. They called him “different” or “special” or “something else” and he showed why in his flashy debut.

One of five players on the roster with the last name Williams, Pooka joins Dom, Jack, Nick and Tekulve, but is the only one already referred to only by his nickname.

“That’s what I’ve seen all camp,” said redshirt sophomore guard Malik Clark of Pooka after also making the first start of his career. “He’s a different type of human being when it comes to football. He’s a freak of nature.”

Teammates talked during camp of him not just zipping past and cutting around potential tacklers, but even jumping over one on a running play.

He finished his first touchdown Saturday with a high step into the end zone. On his second, a burner down the left sideline after he freed himself with a wicked cut, he was in danger of being knocked out of bounds just before the goal line and at the last instant jumped into the end zone.

He’s a player who makes you watch his every move for fear you’ll miss something if you blink. At this point, it’s going to take a lot to surprise teammates.

“I saw this coming,” senior quarterback Peyton Bender said. “He had a great fall camp. He showed exactly what he did today all fall camp. When he’s in the game, he’s a game changer.”

For an undisclosed reason Kansas head coach David Beaty termed "non-disciplinary," Williams was not in the game for the season-opening, 26-23 overtime loss to Nicholls State in Lawrence.

The announced attendance for that game was 24,305. The crowd for the Rutgers game figures to be much bigger for a couple of reasons. For one, Todd Reesing's name will go up on the Ring of Honor. For another, Kansas is playing a home game coming off a road victory for the first time since 2009.

But bigger than those two factors combined, the player who has the potential to develop into the program's most exciting offensive performer since Reesing is scheduled to play in front of the home crowd for the first time. That assumes that whatever issue prevented him from playing in the opener does not resurface.

Watching the 5-foot-10, 170-pound dynamo who accelerates to top speed so quickly and doesn't appear to slow down to make such sharp cuts, that alone is worth the price of admission.

Comments

Michael Maris 2 weeks, 1 day ago

To bad Pooka wasn't available for the 1st game of the season. The 3rd game may have a lot more optimistic fans in the stands (assuming that Pooka isn't held out against Rutgers).

Jeff Coffman 2 weeks, 1 day ago

I think it is a sad perspective when we lose to a DII team (again) and the excuse is we didn't have 1 players. Did you know Nicholls only has 63 active scholarships? Our coaching staff couldn't beat a team that got beat by Tulane and we played Nicholls at home. One person may have been the cause of the defeat, but that name was Beaty not anyone else. I think it is a very poor look back to infer that we would win a game if we have a certain player. I'm guessing that Nicholls had players out as well. My point is that, the expectation from Beaty was 3-0 going into conference and again he did not meet those expectations.

Greg Ledom 2 weeks ago

Never heard Michael suggest one player cost us the game against Nicholls. In fact if you watched the game you know that wasn’t the case at all. But the talent that Pooka obviously brings to the table certainly could have helped us regardless of win or lose. That (I believe) is what he was saying. No excuse for losing that first game regardless though. In your fourth year of coaching a program you have to win that game at home no less and we didn’t. So, let’s go get #2 against Rutgers and support the players and Reesing’s ring of honor regardless of what you think of the staff. Rock Chalk!!

Larry Knzas 2 weeks ago

Greg nails it below. This team is going to be better. Is it going to be good enough that Beaty saves his job for the whole season? Or save his job at all? Who knows. I am personally happy for the men (players and coaches) on this team that the CM game was such a nice win. A Rutgers win is certainly possible. RCJ!!

Doug Longstaff 2 weeks ago

The point is not whether or not one player should have made a difference--it shouldn't have. We're not good, we know it. The point is any one or two things going differently in that game would have meant that KU is 2-0 and has a lot more reason to be optimistic right now. There are so few wins on the schedule for KU, and they can't afford not to pull off that first one.

Not to pick a nit, but it was a D1AA school (or D1 FCS as it's known now). Not a DII school. Little consolation, I know.

Len Shaffer 2 weeks, 1 day ago

Does anyone know if there's a replay of the game available somewhere? I usually set my DVR to record but forgot in this case. (In fact, I didn't even check so I don't know if it was on in the Bay Area anyway.)

Dane Pratt 2 weeks ago

Given what Todd did for this program it would be nice to fill the stands to show our appreciation. Would also be nice to show the players what a home field advantage is.

Bill Kackley 2 weeks ago

Go to Bentons article on Daniel and Joe and vote for Joe

John Fitzgerald 2 weeks ago

I’ll be there with about 10 friends, half of which don’t have season tickets and didn’t have tickets before the CMU game. Should be entertaining.

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