GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On a warm September night in Tucson, Arizona, about 100 miles south of the Cardinals practice facility, Chad Williams needed 3 hours, 36 minutes to go from a blip on the radar of NFL teams to a full-fledged prospect.
Even though his Grambling Tigers lost the game, he dominated the University of Arizona Wildcats that night, catching 13 passes for 152 yards. He didn't score a touchdown, but he didn't have to. He proved that a player from a Football Championship Subdivision school could not only play with a Power 5 conference team from the Football Bowl Subdivision, he could flourish.
That game put Williams on the Arizona Cardinals' map, general manager Steve Keim said. Almost eight months later, they drafted Williams in the third round.
"That was a validation game for him," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.
As he begins his third week of training camp, Williams already has started to prove he has the skill, talent and athleticism to play at the NFL level coming from a small school.
Once the Cardinals began looking at Williams, they saw more than just his breakout game against Arizona.
They saw 90 catches for 1,337 yards last season, so they knew he could produce over the span of a season. Then they started watching tape and saw the way he made defenders miss, the way he bulldozed them if necessary, the way he blocked on run plays. Mix in the fact that he's 6-foot-1, 204 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, and he had all the tools Arizona wanted.
Yet, for some reason, Williams wasn't highly touted until that game against Arizona.
Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs feels Williams received an unfair evaluation after his junior season.
"I think he was given a bad grade, which I don't understand," Fobbs told ESPN. "I think that's the difference between him being a late first-rounder and a third-rounder.
"He wasn’t evaluated fairly. I think from time-to-time, people can come in and evaluate the facilities and what they see more so than the pure talent. I think you have to look past a lot of those things to see what a kid can really do."
Once Williams turned in 152 yards against a Pac-12 team, though, it didn't seem to matter where he played or what the facilities looked like.
Fobbs noticed more scouts showing up to Grambling, which, he felt, was a sign that Williams was getting the respect Fobbs felt he deserved. Fobbs believes there's a misconception that FCS players don't face "quality competition." When it comes to linemen, he thinks that's a fair assessment, but not for skill positions.
Against the Wildcats, Williams didn't just show off his receiving skills, he was physical in his blocking and broke a handful of tackles, Fobbs recalled.
"It was almost like they couldn't tackle him," Fobbs said.
Though the attention was beginning to intensify, Williams said he didn't let the added recognition affect him. But there was no denying the impact of his play on Sept. 10, 2016.
One year from that date, Williams will reap the benefits of that game when he makes his NFL debut in Detroit against the Lions.
"I think it helped because it showed that you can not only perform against (FCS) schools but also against a Power 5 school, an FBS school," Williams said. "It shows your toughness, your heart and it just shows you don't care about the decal or the logo that's on a guy's jersey or helmet.
"My mindset is everyone puts their pants on the same way. We're all human when the day ends. It's man on man and may the best man win."