Anthony “Pooka” Williams might be one of the best football players to ever come through Hahnville, and he doesn’t have a position.
Running back, receiver, and as of last week, quarterback, Williams provides a spark at multiple positions in the Hahnville offense.
Just a sophomore, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Williams has amassed 700 yards through two playoff games. Dating to Week 6, his increased role has translated to the Tigers scoring 40 or more points six times.
It’s no coincidence that rise in production has led to seven straight victories and Hahnville advancing to the Class 5A state quarterfinals a second consecutive year.
Running back, receiver or quarterback, Williams has proved to be the catalyst for these Tigers.
“We go all day long in the office asking what he is,” Hahnville coach Nick Saltaformaggio laughed. “The explosiveness — if he gets to the second level, it’s a touchdown. He runs equally fast sideways as he does forward. He’s got giant hands, catches the ball well in traffic.
“I don’t know if he’s the best player in south Louisiana, but I don’t want to coach against the guy who is. He can do everything — return punts, return kickoffs, throw the ball, catch the ball, run inside, run outside, run with lead blockers or run the stretch without lead blockers. There’s nothing he can’t do.”
Saltaformaggio compared Williams’ skill set to former Higgins and LSU receiver Skyler Green.
Assistant coach Mike Silva has spent the past 17 seasons at Hahnville and already considers the sophomore the best athlete to come through the program — ahead of the likes of LaRon and Dawan Landry, Darius Reynaud and LaRon Byrd.
Even offensive coordinator Lester Ricard’s fiancée has a comparison for Williams. As the debate rages on, there is one unanimous take.
“My fiancée said it best: He’s better than Matt Forte,” Ricard said of his former Tulane teammate. “It’s scary. He’s a Pro Bowl football player. The things he does — it’s amazing. I’ve played with good football players that went to LSU, and this kid is second to none. I’m just thankful he’s on our side on Friday nights.”
Early this season, Saltaformaggio featured Williams in the I-formation. However, that led to a 2-3 start and a three-game losing skid midway through the regular season.
Collectively, the coaching staff decided Williams and other Hahnville playmakers needed to remain on the field at all times. In particular, Williams needed more touches, so they implemented a Wildcat package that resulted in touchdowns of 75 and 53 yards as Hahnville posted 55 points in a victory over St. Amant last week.
“It’s getting the ball to your best player on the field,” Ricard said.
“Pooka’s your best player, the most explosive guy. When your best player has the football, it changes the whole dynamic of our football team. It’s a team sport, but it takes a special individual to win a football. No. 7 is special.”
No. 7 Hahnville is preparing to face No. 2 Zachary, and there’s a sense among coaches and players that this team can vie for a state championship.
The do-it-all athlete credits those blocking for him and his quarterback for the team’s turnaround. Nevertheless, Williams has the Tigers making noise at the right time.
“That three-game losing streak brought us together,” said Williams, who receives weekly phone calls from another River Parish legend, Ed Reed. “Our offensive line started to block well. Our quarterback started to throw the ball better. We were trying to get to the playoffs, and it all came together.”
“His impact — it’s massive,” Saltaformaggio said. “Last year we had a miracle victory (to get to the quarterfinals). Now our kids have a purpose. We know what we want to do. We understand who our players are. We’re not the same quarterfinals team. We have a legitimate chance.”