Joshua Williams had already made history when he became the first Fayetteville State player invited to participate in the Senior Bowl. The Broncos cornerback then continued to make school history when he was selected by Kansas City in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Williams became the first Fayetteville State player drafted in any round since 1973, and this fall he should become the third Bronco to play in the NFL and the first since 2011. Williams was the first player from an HBCU drafted in two years as the Chiefs took him 135th overall.
He credited his performance at the Senior Bowl with putting him on NFL radar and improving his draft stock.
“I knew it was going to be my big opportunity to answer questions people had about me playing at a Division II school,” he said while meeting with the Kansas City media. “I was just having fun playing football, trying not to think about it too much — often that’s when things go wrong.”
The Chiefs spoke to Williams briefly at the NFL Combine and then had a more detailed interview with him later in the process, telling him they were interested in selecting him. Still, he went into the third day of the draft not sure where he stood with Kansas City or any of his other potential suitors. So he kept his draft party small and intimate.
“We didn’t do anything too crazy,” he said. “About five family members. We were just downstairs when I got the call. I could see it was a Missouri number, and, at that point, I saw two picks later was Kansas City. So I put the pieces together and started smiling ear to ear.”
While there have been other Division II players who went on to star in the NFL, just getting drafted out of Fayetteville State is an accomplishment for Williams.
“It definitely just speaks to the exposure we’ve been getting (at HBCUs),” he said. “And also to the hard work I’ve been putting in just trying to create a name for myself. I’m glad it paid off. I’m glad all these things came to fruition. I’m glad to be a Kansas City Chief.”
Williams wasn’t the only small school product from the state to hear his name called in the NFL Draft. Lenoir-Rhyne’s Dareke Young was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the seventh round. The wide receiver was taken with the 233rd overall pick. Young also ran the ball at the Division II school and prides himself on his versatility.
“The more you can do, the better,” he told the Seattle media after being selected.
Young credited a successful pre-draft visit to Seattle with securing his draft spot.
“Seattle just felt like the right fit, and I’m glad they took a shot on me,” he said.
He’s the seventh Lenoir-Rhyne player drafted and the second in three years, joining Kyle Dugger, who was taken by the Patriots in 2020.
Four other schools in the state had players selected in this year’s draft.
Appalachian State linebacker D’Marco Jackson was taken by the New Orleans Saints with the 18th pick of the fifth round.
NC State had a pair of players go off the board. Ikem “Ickey” Ekwonu was the first area player selected when the Carolina Panthers took him in the first round, sixth overall. Ekwonu’s teammate, punter Trenton Gill, was also chosen, going to the Bears with the 34th pick of the seventh round.
Gill is the first Wolfpack punter taken since quarterback/punter Johnny Evans was drafted in 1978. He could also join AJ Cole and give the Pack two punters in the league next season.
Wake Forest had two players selected. Offensive lineman Zach Tom was chosen by the Green Bay Packers with the 35th pick of the fourth round. Almost exactly two rounds later — at pick 36 of the sixth round — defensive back Ja’Sir Taylor was taken by the Chargers.
UNC led the way for North Carolina colleges with four players taken — all on offense. Quarterback Sam Howell, once thought to be a potential first-rounder, fell to Day 3 and was drafted with the first pick of the fifth round by the Washington Commanders.
Howell was the second Tar Heel selected. Guard Joshua Ezeudu was taken by the New York Giants with the third pick of the third round.
Two other UNC players were chosen in the fifth round. Running back Ty Chandler went to the Minnesota Vikings with the 26th pick of the fifth, and guard Marcus McKethan went four selections later to the Giants.
Now, all the local talent will need to put in the work to clear the next hurdle — making an NFL roster.
“All of this was great,” Williams said. “The pre-draft process was cool. Now I can do what I want to do — play football.”