ORLANDO – If Maxx Williams indeed played his final college game Thursday, he delivered one last memorable catch.
Williams hurdled two defenders on a jaw-dropping 54-yard touchdown in the Gophers’ 33-17 loss to Missouri in the Citrus Bowl.
That might have been Williams’ best and last touchdown catch in a Gophers uniform.
The All-America tight end is widely expected to enter the NFL draft. Williams, who has until Jan. 15 to make a decision, has outstanding pass-catching ability and a pro-ready body, and he likely would be a first- or second-round pick.
Williams didn’t discuss the subject at length after the game, saying only that he plans to sit down with his parents in the next few days to make a decision.
“Whenever it is that he leaves, he’ll make a great decision,” senior running back David Cobb said. “He’ll go on to the next level and some team will be happy to have him. He’s a mismatch for pretty much anybody who’s guarding him. He’s athletic. I personally can’t wait to watch him myself.”
Quarterback Mitch Leidner was asked if Williams’ touchdown catch demonstrated that he’s ready for the NFL.
“Plays like that tell you he’s going to be a first-rounder,” Leidner said.
On the play, Williams gained separation on his defender on a crossing pattern. As Williams ran down the sideline after the catch, Missouri cornerback Aarion Penton went low for a tackle at the 15-yard line. Williams leapt over him and kept running.
Safety Braylon Webb ran over and dived at Williams’ legs at the 5-yard line. Williams jumped over him too and stretched for the end zone.
“I saw him on the Jumbotron [thinking], ‘OK, nice gain,’ ” Cobb said. “Then he leaps over somebody and I thought, ‘Oh, he’s getting tackled in the red zone.’ Then he leaps again and he’s in the end zone. We kind of expect that from him.”
The third-year sophomore has a résumé full of highlight catches. Some fans previously would have put Williams’ toe-drag catch against Iowa as No. 1 on the list.
“My favorite was Michigan, the one-hander on the sideline,” he said.
Williams said a Missouri defender hit him low on his first catch, so he figured that was their game plan in trying to tackle him. That’s why he decided to jump.
“Just kind of closed my eyes and said, ‘Hey, might as well go for it,’ ” he said.
Williams finished the season with eight touchdown catches, a school record for a tight end.
“He’s got a gift,” coach Jerry Kill said. “There’s not many people who can catch that football like that.”
That’s why his next move likely will be to the NFL.