Monday is a big day at Chargers Park as 28 rookies embark on their NFL career.
Eight members of the rookie class heard their name called during the NFL Draft, yet a whopping 20 of them will look to make their mark as the next in a long line of successful undrafted free agents to play for the Bolts.
It was exactly one year ago that Tyrell Williams was in their shoes, hoping to follow in the footsteps of Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, Kris Dielman, Jahleel Addae and others before him.
Now, the incoming crop of rookie free agents will aim to follow in his.
The last we saw of Williams, the free agent pickup out of Western Oregon was torching the eventual Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos for an 80-yard touchdown catch from Philip Rivers in the season finale.
"That was one of the best feelings of my entire life," he said. "I remember we drew the play up on the sideline with an adjustment, and they said I'd be running the post. If I did it the way we discussed, the coverage should open up. I remember off the snap, I made a hesitation plant like I was going to cut out, and I saw the corner turn. Once I went up, I saw that if there was no safety there, this is just going to be a touchdown. As soon as I came out of my break and saw the ball, I knew no one was inside and it was about to be a touchdown. It was awesome. My dad was at the game in the stands, so it was just surreal. I just wanted to make sure I caught it, and once I got in the end zone, it was just indescribable."
The football he caught when he burned past for his first career TD strike currently sits in his room at home. While others may look at that as proof they've arrived, Williams hopes it jumpstarts him to even greater heights. After all, he knows he has to prove himself all over again in a deep and talented wide receiver group.
"I want more. It was big to end my year like that, and it gave me momentum coming into this offseason. Before we started the offseason program, I made sure to come in ahead of the game working on coming in and out of my breaks. That play really motivated me to come out back and hopefully make a splash this year. I still feel like I have a lot to learn, but I know I can play at this level. I'm hoping to use my speed and size to earn a role. I want to be the guy who Philip trusts to throw that 50/50 ball knowing I will come down with it. Whatever they want me to do, I will do it."
Williams ended the year with two receptions, both coming against the Broncos in Week 17. Even though he made a mark in the season finale, his rookie year wasn't always smooth sailing as he bounced between the active roster and practice squad.
After being one of four undrafted free agents to make the opening day roster and play in Week 1, the wide receiver was waived the following week after injuries required the Bolts to bolster other areas.
Williams knew the Chargers hoped to stash him on the practice squad if he cleared waivers. While some players may hope to be claimed to stay on an active roster, he was praying no other team would scoop him up as he wanted to remain a part of the Chargers.
"That was hard for me because obviously I want to be on the field and make a contribution," he said. "Coming in undrafted, I thought it could still happen. They had told me I may go up or down throughout the year, but you still hope it doesn't happen. It was disappointing, but I was still happy to be a Charger and have a chance in the NFL. I was hoping to go unclaimed. I wanted to stay in San Diego. I'd rather be a practice squad guy and work (on my craft) and come back up to the active roster with this team. I love the receivers. I love the organization. I love the coaches. When it happened, I told my dad I was hoping to clear waivers so I could stay with the Chargers."
Williams made an impression from the beginning. He led all wide receivers in the preseason with 10 catches for 137 yards, including a 63-yard TD strike against the San Francisco 49ers.
Although he can't pinpoint an exact moment he knew he had a future in the NFL, Williams remembers it began to come together during training camp.
"That's when I knew it was clicking. Once we started doing 7-on-7 and 1-on-1s, I was able to make plays and I felt it. I knew I could make (a mark)."
It wasn't long after he began to hear the Malcom Floyd comparisons as a 6-4, 205-pound deep threat looking to make a name for himself as an undrafted wide receiver.
"I definitely embraced it because I look up to Malcom a lot. If I can be anything like he was and have anything close to the career he had, that would be awesome. He was able to help me so much as a big, tall guy with tricks how to get in and out of breaks real quick. And off the field, he was a great guy and a huge help. It was awesome to be compared to him."
Beyond proving himself as a wide receiver, Williams knew he also had to make his mark on special teams.
"I had never played gunner or done kickoff coverage before (I got here)," he said. "That is probably one of the biggest things for an undrafted guy. Find something that you are really good at on special teams. I was able to find gunner. That became my thing, and I saw that as my way onto the team too. Wide receiver is my craft, but I put a lot of work into being a gunner. I wanted to make sure I used my speed on that too, and then Coach (Craig) Aukerman helped me work on my technique and it became easier."
With one year under his belt, Williams knows he is far from an established veteran. Nonetheless, he offers some sage advice to the 20 undrafted rookie free agents about to embark on Chargers Park.
"Just work hard and know you are not going to get a lot of reps early on. Once you do, you have to make the most of it. Make a mark on special teams. It was crazy, and I was nervous (when I came in). Just seeing guys I watched growing up like Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and all those guys, it was crazy. I played as them in Madden, and then they are my teammates. So this is a crazy experience. This is a once in lifetime opportunity, so be patient and have fun."