It all started as a joke, a playful ruse prior to a surprise birthday party for one of D.J. Williams’ close friends back home in Fayetteville, Ark.

Perusing a local drug store for a present and some party favors before the festivities, the Green Bay Packers tight end came across an object that would define his offseason.

It was a giant, overstuffed teddy bear — the kind that typically towers over a child hugging it.

“It was nice. It was about the size of John Kuhn,” Williams deadpanned during organized team activities. “We just bought everything. We had Fruit Roll-Ups, Starburst — all this crazy random stuff, and on the way out I saw this big bear.

“I was like, ‘We gotta get that bear.’ ”

The plan was for the bear, aptly named Ted like the 2012 Mark Wahlberg-fronted film by the same name, to be a one-night novelty for the party, a lighthearted vehicle with which to photobomb friends.

What started as a gag gift, however, soon took on a life of its own between Williams and teammate Brandon Bostick, who spent the offseason working out with Williams on the University of Arkansas campus.

Everywhere the two tight ends went — breakfast, lunch, workouts, even flights — Ted was by their side, with Williams chronicling many of the adventures through Instagram and going as far as to buy matching T-shirts and clothes for the bear when they went out.

“It just kind of stuck,” Williams said. “Everyone around Fayetteville, we’d go somewhere and they’d be like, ‘Where’s that teddy bear?’ So we were like, ‘OK, let’s bring the teddy bear.’ That bear became a big deal. They didn’t want to see us when we went out, they’d be like, ‘Where’s the bear at?’ ”

For all the fun and games, the importance of this upcoming season never was lost on Williams. Now in his third NFL season, the 6-foot-2, 249-pound tight end understands what’s at stake once training camp rolls around in another month.

Two years removed from being selected in the fifth round of the 2011 NFL draft, the 24-year-old is vastly approaching that sink-or-swim moment nearly all players face in their careers.

At times, particularly in training camp, Williams has flashed the brilliance of the Mackey Award-winning tight end he was during his senior year at Arkansas in 2010 when he served as a team captain and role model to many of the program’s younger tight ends like Chris Gragg.

There also have been times when Williams has fallen by the wayside in Green Bay. Through 26 career games, Williams has only nine catches for 70 yards with zero touchdowns. During January’s divisional playoff game against San Francisco, Williams was a healthy scratch in the 45-31 loss.

Along the way, there’s been some occasional bad luck. Williams appeared to be in line for a breakthrough against Houston in Week 6 last season with Jermichael Finley’s shoulder ailing, only to suffer a hamstring flare-up in practice the week leading up to the game.

“The hamstring injury, talk about terrible timing last year, that he suffered and it was a game plan he was a featured player in a number of different concepts and particular situations,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

“He has big play ability from the tight end position and has done a good job on special teams, continues to get better. I look for him to take a big step there once training camp hits. We can’t have enough tight ends. D.J.’s very versatile and can play all the different positions. Very smart, instinctive, catches the ball very well.”

While Williams or Bostick didn’t partake in any cow-tipping workouts like last year, Williams spent time working out and catching passes from former teammate and current New England quarterback Ryan Mallett.

Meanwhile, Bostick lived in the weight room, adding 10 pounds to his frame to expedite his conversion from a Division II wide receiver to NFL tight end after being one of three players to spend all of last season on the Packers’ practice squad.