Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman will return to his alma mater this Saturday to give the commencement speech at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“This is really a huge honor for me to do this,” said Tillman, who played for the Ragin’ Cajuns from 1999-2002 and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in just three-and-a-half years.
Tillman, who was inducted into the school’s sports Hall of Fame in 2012, intends to urge Lafayette graduates to make their mark in whatever profession they choose to enter.
“I guess the biggest message I want to get across is, ‘You are the future, make your mark,’” Tillman said. “That’s something I’m going to talk about. I never thought that I would make my mark at that school by coming back and speaking. I thought that I would make my mark by playing football.
“I never dreamed about being in the Hall of Fame at my university, not one time. Now I’m in the Hall of Fame, and for them to want me to come back and speak, they have blessed me. I’m humbled and I’m honored for them to want me to do that. It’s really cool.”
Lafayette residents are special to Tillman. He recalls that at his Hall of Fame ceremony the loudest cheer he received was when it was mentioned that he’s most well-known for saying on Monday Night Football telecasts that he attended the University of Louisiana.
“That was all they cared about,” Tillman said. “And that meant so much to me because they don’t care about all the glitz and glamour. They only care about recognizing where you’re from and being proud of where you’re from. That’s what makes Louisiana-Lafayette so special.”
Before being selected by the Bears in the second round of the 2003 draft, Tillman was a two-time All-Sun Belt Conference selection at the school. He concluded his career with 284 tackles, 12 interceptions, seven fumble recoveries and three blocked punts.
The Ragin’ Cajuns teams that Tillman played on didn’t have as much success, however, compiling records of 2-9 in 1999, 1-10 in 2000, 3-8 in 2001 and 3-9 in 2002.
“We were terrible, but if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing,” Tillman said. “That school taught me so much about how not to quit, how to fight and how to keep going. It taught me about team, and it taught me about loyalty and honor.”
Tillman also excelled off the field. When he was a freshman, two of his roommates encouraged him to try to graduate in three-and-a-half years, and he heeded their advice.
“The main reason I graduated in three-and-a-half years is because they challenged me,” Tillman said. “I ended up taking a lot of classes, 17 or 20 hours. It was one of the best things I ever did.”
Tillman no doubt will reflect on those memories when he returns to the school this weekend.
“The people of that town have a real southern hospitality,” said Tillman, a Texas native. “Once you’re down there, it really is amazing. Everybody down there is so nice. I learned a lot about their culture. They taught me so much.
“They’ve got pride in their state; they are proud people. If you’re from Louisiana, you’ve got pride. I’m not from there, but I say I’m from that university and I say it proud and loud.”