Pooka Pizzazz: Hahnville's Anthony Williams providing plenty of excitement for Tigers

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His birth certificate reads Anthony Ray Williams Jr., but let’s set the record straight.

His birth certificate reads Anthony Ray Williams Jr., but let’s set the record straight.

He goes by “Pooka.’’

And, oh, yes, just in case you’ve not had the pleasure of seeing Hahnville’s Pooka Williams perform, running the football is his gift.

Few high school players run the ball with the pizzazz of Pooka.

Blessed with an ability to make tacklers miss, to stop, start, spin, pivot, shift gears, cut on a dime and suddenly be back at full speed, Williams is a human highlight reel whose next fan appreciation day comes Friday when the undefeated Tigers play their second game, a nondistrict outing versus John Ehret at 7 p.m. at Hoss Memtsas Stadium.

Hahnville (1-0) and Ehret (0-1) are ranked No. 6 and 7 respectively in The New Orleans Advocate’s Super 10 poll for large schools.

“I don’t know how to explain what Anthony does,’’ Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio said. “It’s just something the good Lord gave him. It’s just a gift. And I’m glad I got to see it.’’

For all of the Barry Sanders-like moves Williams regularly displays, his specialty is touchdowns.

In his third season as a full-time starter, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound senior, who has been timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.29 seconds, averaged about one touchdown for every six touches of the ball as a junior, when he earned Class 5A All-State honors in addition to being chosen as an All-Metro performer by The New Orleans Advocate.

It is a pace the Kansas commitment and reigning District 7-5A Offensive Player of the Year exceeded in last week’s season-opening 41-6 victory against West Jefferson in which he carried only 11 times while gaining 163 yards and scoring two touchdowns prior to exiting following the first series of the third quarter.

“When you see him for the first time, you never leave the stadium asking who he is,’’ Saltaformaggio said. “You make sure you find out his name ... because you know you’re never going to see anything like that (again).’’

Equally distinctive is his nickname whose roots date to his early childhood when his grandmother began using Pooka as a term of endearment, which his mother, Angelique Griffin, then embraced for the youngest of her five children.

“I prefer being called Pooka,’’ Williams said with a chuckle. “I’m so used to Pooka that the Anthony name, it kind of bothers me now.’’

It is Pooka’s ability to make tacklers miss that has proven to be a regular bother to opposing defenses and an amazement to his coach.

“He is terrific,’’ Jesuit coach Mark Songy said after facing Pooka in the Hahnville Jamboree, where Williams ran for a 70-yard touchdown, caught a pass for a 59-yard score that produced a 14-14 tie and record an additional 31-yard run in which he weaved through virtually the entire defense before a stumble at midfield squashed an opportunity for a third touchdown.

“When I get the ball,’’ Williams said, “I just feel like I’ve got something to prove to a lot of people ... because I’m small. You know the small ones are always counted out. So I feel like I’ve got something to prove and that’s what makes me do what I do on the field.’’

In two-plus varsity seasons, counting the West Jefferson game, Williams has totaled 4,128 yards and 43 touchdowns as a runner and receiver and scored seven additional touchdowns via kick returns.

The Tigers advanced to the second round of the playoffs last season for a 9-3 finish after going 9-4 with a trip to the state quarterfinals in Pooka’s sophomore year.

Last season, as a junior, Williams scored 33 touchdowns after carrying 169 times for 1,485 yards and 24 scores, catching 32 passes for 706 yards and another five scores and returning four kickoffs for touchdowns.

To put those numbers in even better perspective, consider that Pooka has no toes on his left foot. Williams said he lost those toes during a lawnmower accident involving a lawnmower when he was about 7 years old.

He has prosthetic toes that clamp onto the foot.

“But I don’t use them anymore,’’ Williams said. “I got used to not having them. So I don’t need them anymore.’’

Initially, he said, “It was hard to make cuts and stuff. But after a while I just got used to it. Now I plant soft. I don’t plant hard. I can plant hard. But when it first happened I wasn’t able to plant hard on it. Now I can do anything on (the foot) now.’’

Pooka’s talent and production have attracted recruiting interest from a “you name it’’ list of colleges, Saltaformaggio said. Williams committed to Kansas in early February during a Junior Day visit.

Williams chose the unheralded Jayhawks over offers from LSU, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Mississippi State and had additional offers from Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss and Texas, Saltaformaggio said.

But Williams added: “My recruitment is still open. I’ve never really shut it down. Everybody is still in the running.’’

All that separates Williams from being a full academic qualifier is an adequate ACT score, Saltaformaggio said.

Pooka’s more immediate concerns are helping Hahnville win a District 7-5A championship and its first state crown since 2003, when those Tigers finished 15-0 with a 41-35 victory against Evangel.

“It would be something awesome,’’ Pooka said. “But we’re just looking at this season as game by game. This week we’ve got John Ehret. We’re trying to go 1-0 every week. We don’t look ahead.’’

To Saltaformaggio, such an ending would serve as a just reward for his senior standout.

“If any kid deserves to play in the Superdome in Week 15 to give the fans, just John Q. Public, an opportunity to see a very special player, it’s Anthony Williams. I would love to see him on that Superdome turf the second week in December, because the fans that go to that game and the colleges there (recruiting) would be like, ‘Holy Cow!’ ’’

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