Predicting 2019’s top Jayhawks: No. 1, RB Pooka Williams
As the start of the college football season inches closer by the minute, here at KUsports.com and the Lawrence Journal-World we are counting down to kickoff by each day revealing a new KU player on Benton Smith’s list predicting the top 11 Jayhawks for the 2019 season.
Les Miles will lead the Kansas football team onto the field for the first time on Aug. 31 versus Indiana State.
From the instant this list was devised — and likely from the moment you or anyone who has checked out any of the entries came across it — the man who would occupy the final and No. 1 spot never was in doubt.
Sophomore running back Pooka Williams is the best player in the program, even if his offseason couldn’t have gone much worse.
He, of course, won’t play against Indiana State on Saturday, while serving his one-game suspension for an offseason arrest and domestic battery charge — a case that concluded with Williams reaching a diversion agreement.
Williams is set to return to the lineup in Week 2 against Coastal Carolina, a day that will also mark his first time — if KU makes him available — fielding questions from a contingent of reporters since joining the program. (A rule under the previous coaching regime didn’t allow freshmen to do interviews.)
Maybe we’ll get a better sense then of how sorry he is for his actions and how he plans to make use of the second chance KU has given him.
In a press release in July, Williams stated, in part: "My behavior was unacceptable, and I'm very sorry to those who were impacted by my poor choices. I am disappointed in myself, not just as a man, but as a student-athlete looked up to by younger kids.”
Williams would be entering this season with far more fanfare (probably not quite as much as his head coach, Miles; but close) if not for his “unacceptable” actions in December against a woman with whom he was in a relationship.
KU’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.
The KU football program has rightfully scaled back on touting its leading returning rusher. No hype videos. No instances of Miles gushing about Williams’ skill set.
Because of the ugly nature of the incident it’s difficult to talk about Williams and his obvious talents. You can’t gloss over something like this.
The only good news for Williams in all of this is he still has an entire career and lifetime ahead of him to prove he is remorseful and capable of evolving as a human being.
In 2018, Williams produced four 100-yard rushing games and a 100-yard receiving game in his 11-game freshman season. His 1,660 all-purpose yards on the year rank him third all-time on KU's single-season list.
After rushing for 1,125 yards and seven touchdowns, to go with his 289 receiving yards and two touchdown catches, Williams became the first All-Big 12 first team running back from KU since Jon Cornish, in 2006.
For this program, Williams is a once in a decade (maybe longer) type of talent. Soon, he’ll make his return to the field and continue trying to rehabilitate his public image.
His coaches and teammates indicate Williams is on the right track. Now it’s up to him to demonstrate KU made the right choice in granting him a second chance.