Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman returned to his alma mater, the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, in November to receive a very special honor.
The school that Tillman attended from 1999-2002 retired his No. 5 jersey during a ceremony at halftime of the Rajun’ Cajuns’ game against Appalachian State.
“It’s probably the greatest honor that the university could have ever given me,” Tillman said. “They were very generous in giving me that honor. It was a great moment because my kids got a chance to see that their dad’s hard work paid off. I don’t think they understand how big it is now, but hopefully when they get a little bit older they can understand that no one’s ever going to wear that number again. In 100 years from now that number will still be retired.”
It was important for Tillman to share the special moment with his wife, Jackie, and their four young children—even if the kids were more interested in running around the school’s indoor facility.
“I want my kids to see stuff like that,” Tillman said. “I want them to know that hard work pays off, that nothing comes easy. When you work hard, you’ve got to pay a price. That’s what I want them to learn. When I was in school there, I had to grind. I had to work hard to get to where I am. I had to pay the price, and it paid off. Having my jersey retired was a tremendous honor.”
In 2012, Tillman was inducted into Louisiana-Lafayette’s Hall of Fame. During his four years there, he was an All-Independent selection in 2000 and a two-time All-Sun Belt Conference choice, recording 284 career tackles, 12 interceptions, seven fumble recoveries and three blocked punts.
Tillman also performed well in the classroom in college, earning his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in only three-and-a-half years.
Tillman is proud of Louisiana-Lafayette and enjoys returning to the campus. The people he encounters are down-to-earth and appreciative that he has never forgot where he came from.
“The people at UL are very humble,” Tillman said. “They like the little things. The little things to them are big. When I say [during nationally-televised games] I’m from THE University of Louisiana, that’s what they get a kick out of. They don’t care about the ‘Peanut Punch’ or the NFL Man of the Year Award. They like how I represent the school, how I’m a good ambassador.”
While Tillman developed into a top NFL prospect who was ultimately selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2003 draft, he didn’t experience much team success in college. In his four years in Lafayette, the Rajun’ Cajuns went 2-9, 1-10, 3-8 and 3-9.
“I didn’t have the greatest winning seasons when I was in college,” Tillman said. “But I learned a whole lot when I was there. I learned a lot of life lessons.
“We had some guys who were on full-ride scholarships quit the team. They quit on us; they quit on teammates. I remember a coach saying football is a game of life. What if you’re laid off from your job and your kids are hungry. Are you going to quit on your family when things go wrong?
"That taught me a life lesson. No matter what happens in life, you can't quit on your family and you can't quit on your team. My time at UL taught me not to quit no matter what happens. You've got to keep fighting, no matter what the circumstances are. As long as you keep fighting, you always have a chance."