Originally published July 8, 2019 at 02:08p.m., updated July 8, 2019 at 04:17p.m.
The Kansas football team’s undeniable star a season ago, running back Pooka Williams, is rejoining the program after a seven-month suspension.
Williams, who was arrested and charged with domestic battery in December before reaching a diversion agreement in the case, will miss the Jayhawks’ season opener versus Indiana State as part of his punishment, KU announced on Monday.
“My behavior was unacceptable, and I’m very sorry to those who were impacted by my poor choices,” Williams said in a news release from KU Athletics. “I am disappointed in myself, not just as a man, but as a student-athlete looked up to by younger kids. My suspension from football has been hard, but I have learned from it. I’m thankful I can continue with my education at KU. Looking ahead, the most important thing to me is to regain the trust and respect of my classmates, teammates, and fans. I am humbled to return to football and to prepare for the season.”
KU head coach Les Miles suspended Williams from all team-related activities this past December, after KU police arrested Williams and he was charged with domestic battery.
The victim in the case told a KU police officer on Dec. 6 that Williams punched her in the stomach and grabbed her throat around 12:30 a.m. Dec. 5, when they were at Stouffer Place Apartments.
During the interview, the officer found that the victim had bruises on her arms and side, according to the affidavit supporting Williams’ arrest. She also showed the officer text messages from Williams admitting to punching her in the arms.
The officer interviewed Williams, who reportedly said that he pushed the woman when he saw her in a room with other men at the apartment building. Both Williams and the victim said they were in an intimate relationship.
Williams spent the night in jail and made his first court appearance Dec. 7 in Douglas County District Court. He was formally charged with domestic battery, a misdemeanor. Hatem B. Chahine, Williams’ attorney, entered a not guilty plea on his client’s behalf.
Williams and Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson signed a diversion agreement regarding the misdemeanor domestic battery charge in March.
A diversion is a means by which a defendant can avoid having a criminal conviction on his record, provided he completes an agreed upon program. In Williams’ case, that includes undergoing a domestic violence offender assessment, completing an anger management course and fulfilling 40 hours of community service by Nov. 30.
Chahine did not immediately respond to the Journal-World’s request for comment regarding his client’s diversion agreement.
In addition to the game suspension imposed by Kansas Athletics, the university’s Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards has required that Williams be subject to probation until he graduates, attend monthly meetings with a university conduct officer, complete 40 hours of community service, and complete a sexual violence accountability course through the university’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Center.
Although Williams didn’t practice with KU football during the spring, he was in attendance at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium for the spring game, watching from the bleachers.
“Pooka’s behavior last December was unacceptable as a member of any community, especially our university community,” KU Athletic Director Jeff Long said in the news release. “As a result, Kansas Athletics suspended Pooka from the football program in December when serious allegations were first brought forward, and he has remained suspended until now. During that time, he has gone through an extensive legal process as well as a comprehensive university conduct process, both resulting in sanctions and penalties.”
According to Long, Williams “has done all that has been required of him by the courts, the university and Kansas Athletics, and most importantly, has accepted responsibility for his actions.”
Williams’ continued time at KU as a student and football player, Long added, will depend on the running back meeting the requirements of his diversion agreement as well as University Conduct sanctions.
“We will continue our educational efforts with Pooka,” Long said, “and with all our student-athletes regarding our expectations of them as representatives of the university.”
A 5-foot-10, 170-pound running back from Louisiana, Williams was a first-team All-Big 12 running back in 2018.
Williams averaged 102.3 yards per game on the ground, while playing in 11, finishing his debut season with 1,125 yards and seven rushing touchdowns. The versatile back also contributed 289 receiving yards, 33 catches and two touchdown receptions. Plus, Williams threw a 9-yard TD pass at Oklahoma.
On special teams, Williams’ 246 yards on 11 kick returns helped him lead the conference in all-purpose yards, at 150.9 per game.
Williams became the first KU player to win Offensive Freshman of the Year and the first KU freshman to earn first-team distinction from the Big 12.
“Pooka has taken responsibility for his actions and we are happy he is back with the team,” Miles said in the release. “This young man has learned much throughout this process and we will support him as he continues working through the required educational and accountability steps.”
— Journal-World reporter Dylan Lysen contributed to this story.