Kentucky ended its 2016 football season on a sour note Saturday with a 33-18 loss to Georgia Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
If that weren’t dispiriting enough for Kentucky backers, the Cats’ 2017 season also took a hit here. Junior running back star Boom Williams announced after the game that he will forgo his senior season and enter his name in the NFL Draft.
Williams said he and his family reached the decision Friday night. The 5-foot-9, 196-pounder from Monroe, Ga., said he informed UK Coach Mark Stoops of his plans after the UK coach’s postgame news conference at EverBank Field.
“I was really stuck in a hard place on whether I wanted to come back or whether I wanted to leave,” Williams said. “Me and my family, we prayed hard about it. We talked about it (Friday) night and just came to the decision that we felt like it was the perfect time for me to pursue my dreams in the NFL.”
The electric back who came into the TaxSlayer Bowl with 1,135 yards rushing in 12 games went out on a quiet note. Georgia Tech limited Williams to 35 yards on 11 carries.
“This wasn’t the way we wanted to end this,” Williams said. “(Getting to a bowl game) was something we all did (that is) special, something that hadn’t been done here in six years.”
One of the biggest reasons UK played in the postseason for the first time since the 2010 season was the 1-2 punch of Williams, a dynamic game-breaker, and true freshman Benny Snell, a between-the-tackles pile mover.
The duo gave Kentucky its first pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season ever.
Individually, the presence of the punishing Snell (1,091 yards) allowed the smallish Williams to stay healthy enough to play in every game for the first time in his career.
Just as the presence of Benny boosted Boom, you can’t help but wonder whether the absence of Williams will make it more difficult for Snell to thrive in 2017.
“It was really hard for defenses when you have two different backs that can come in and change the game that way,” Williams said. “ … It’s been fun sharing the backfield with Benny. I told him, it’s his time now. The torch has been passed.”
Because running backs only have so much tread on their tires, it behooves them to get paid as early as possible in their careers.
To get paid, though, you have to make an NFL roster.
Williams said the feedback he’s received from NFL scouts has been mixed.
“I talked to Stoops and there were a lot of different reports,” Williams said. “I told him, at the end of the day, you can only handle what you can handle and then let God take care of the rest.”
The 2017 class of draft-eligible running backs is considered exceptionally strong — Leonard Fournette (LSU), Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) and Dalvin Cook (Florida State) to name three.
“As far as those other guys,” Williams said, “I’m a major believer in myself.”
One of the shining lights in Stoops’ ballyhooed 2014 recruiting class, Williams leaves Kentucky having backed up his four-star recruiting hype.
From the time he completely reversed field with a screen pass and outran the Florida defense to the edge for a touchdown in the third game of his freshman season (2014), Boom was a UK fan favorite.
“I have enjoyed playing in front of all the BBN fans,” Williams said.
For The Long-Suffering UK Football Fans, losing the bowl and their Boom turned Saturday into another rugged day.