[Courtesy of Grambling State Athletics]
Chad Williams was barely recruited out of high school, but the former Grambling State wideout has etched a legacy as one of the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s all time receivers and is projected to be the Tigers first NFL draft pick in nearly a decade this April.
The Baton Rouge, La., native grew up in the heart of “football country” and embraced it. A former high school basketball team MVP and state champion, Williams said his first organized sport was football and it has been his priority since.
“Baton Rouge is right next door to Texas, and that’s the biggest football state in the country,” he said. “I’m a football guy at heart. I always wanted to put on some pads on go out there to hit somebody. If I touch someone in basketball, it’s a foul. Football is kind of like the woman that has my heart.”
As a sixth grader, Williams started on defense for his middle school’s eighth grade team. In high school, he was a two-way standout at quarterback and safety. Talent was rarely the issue for the 6-foot-2, 200 pound receiver. He’s embraced competition regardless of the attention or notoriety he received.
Williams attended Madison Prep in his hometown, a school chartered less than 10 years ago, and starred on its fledgling football team. During his tenure, the football program had mild success but rarely saw much interest from college scouts because of how new the program was. He ended his senior year with a few offers but it was his familiarity with SWAC culture that landed him at Grambling.
“I didn’t know much about HBCU schools before I attended Grambling, but I grew up eight miles from Southern (University). I used to go to a lot of the games with my family and the homecomings as well. I would always watch the Bayou Classic and one day, I hoped to play in one.”
Each season, Williams improved under the Tigers’ offense. He went from 11 catches as freshman to 45 as a sophomore, and his final season, he finished with a career-best (and conference-high) 90 receptions. By his senior year, Williams became such a weapon in the offense that he even threw for a touchdown in 2016 — a 32-yard strike in a win against Southern.
“I became a much more exceptional person because I came here,” he said. “I’m much smarter in the game of football. I’m bigger, stronger and faster because of the process. I can’t even watch football the same way anymore. There are so many aspects of the game I’m watching for that most people can’t keep up with.”
In the 2016 season, Williams finished with a triple crown for receivers by leading the SWAC in receptions, receiving yards (1337) and touchdown catches (11). He said the biggest difference in attending a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) like Grambling is the coaching methodology, which he credited for his success.
“Our coaches aren’t just our coaches, they treat us like we are their kids. My head coach made me take etiquette classes, so I know which side is my salad fork goes. They teach us how to be a man more so than a football player,” Williams said. “You can text them in the middle of the night with a question or a problem and expect a response.”
The receiver’s favorite part of the SWAC experience is the culture. According to Williams, the experience had at a HBCU football game is unique.
“It’s an environment you’ve never seen before if you aren’t familiar with HBCUs,” he said. “You have the best bands playing, you have your family and friends cheering for you and you have one side against the other side. It’s basically a rivalry game every week.”
Last December, the Grambling Tigers won the black college national championship for the first time since 2008. For Williams, the win was the pinnacle of his career and a childhood aspiration.
“We lost in the championship last season, and my immediate focus was to get us to win the title. I worked so hard in the Summer and Spring and there was no choice but to have an awesome season. Between me, the work and God, no one could stop me this season.”
Though his collegiate career has finished, the former Tiger is looking forward to continuing his career in a new football league. While the attention garnered from his breakout season has been useful, Williams said it takes some adjusting to national notice.
“It’s almost overwhelming but it’s the reward for everything I’ve worked for,” he said. “The things I’m doing, people often tell me that I’m motivational. If I can be the inspiration that people want, then I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.
You have to be able to handle adversity. In life, there are a lot of things thrown at you. Adversity causes some men to break and some to break records.”