Richie James sat alone at a table, as the nearby media horde crowded high-profile players, many from Power 5 conferences, speaking behind podiums at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine.

“I feel like I belong here,” James said, calling his combine invite “a sigh of relief.”

The Middle Tennessee State wide receiver is well aware that his former Blue Raiders teammate, Titans safety Kevin Byard, wasn’t invited to the 2016 combine. But it didn’t stop Byard from being drafted in the third round, earning a starting job and leading the NFL in interceptions last season, when he was named first-team All-Pro.

James reached out to Byard for guidance about whether to turn pro after his junior season was cut short by a broken collarbone.

“Right before I declared I asked him for advice,” James said, “and he just kept it real. He said, ‘Just go out there, play hard, do your thing. You’re one of the best players I played with.’ So he just kept it real with me.”

The 5-foot-10, 183-pound James owns the Blue Raiders’ career records for catches (244), receiving yards (3,261) and receiving touchdowns (23) despite appearing in just five games last season.