Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman and Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III are both NFL stars, but that’s not all they share in common.
Both players grew up in military families in Copperas Cove, Texas, just outside Fort Hood, and continue to honor their past by actively supporting service members whenever possible. Tillman and Griffin are featured together in a short video at SalutetoService.com that was taped when they returned home to Copperas Cove.
The two first met about 10 years ago after Tillman had just joined the Bears and Griffin was a junior high school student-athlete in Copperas Cove.
“When Robert was in junior high, my roommate from college was a coach here at Copperas Cove,” Tillman says in the video. “I came back to see my parents and roommate and he [said], ‘Come up and see the kids and we’ll play some basketball.’ So I remember playing in a basketball game with some of the kids.”
“I was star-struck,” Griffin recalled. “He was a guy that we had heard a lot about and for him to come to our practice being so early into his NFL career was big for us.”
After graduating from Copperas Cove, Tillman attended the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, where he was a four-year letterman and received All-American recognition. In 2003, he was selected by the Bears in the second round of the NFL Draft.
“I’m a guy who’s a firm believer in speaking things into existence, things that you want,” Tillman said. “Playing in the NFL was one of them. It was something that I thought about all the time. I would speak it, I believed it, I practiced it, and it happened.”
Tillman didn’t know it at the time, but his success was inspiring Griffin.
“It was kind of surreal for a lot of people in this city to see him go out of Louisiana Lafayette in the second round to the Chicago Bears,” Griffin said. “That’s helped us; to have that vision, to know that no matter where we’re at, where we grew up, no matter what college we go to we can still make it to the highest levels of success.”
As Tillman developed into an NFL star, Griffin began turning heads at Copperas Cove High School.
“My roommate from college told me about a kid named RGIII,” Tillman said. “I remember him saying, ‘Man, I ain’t never seen a player like this. I ain’t never seen a player put a team on his back and just lead like this kid leads.’ Now fast forward two or three years and he goes to Baylor. A week later he’s on SportsCenter’s ‘Top 10’ again and again and again and again.”
In the feature, Tillman and Griffin toss a football around with service members at Fort Hood.
Tillman has long been a supporter of military personnel and their families. This summer he spent a few days in San Diego visiting a Naval hospital, Naval base and Marine Corps installation as part of a tour coordinated by USO Illinois.
The Bears cornerback went on an eight-day trip to visit troops in Iraq and Kuwait in 2010, and met with wounded service members at the Schofield Army Barracks while in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl in 2013.
In 2012, Tillman returned to Fort Hood to donate a “Charles’ Locker” filled with iPads, computers and portable gaming systems on behalf of his Cornerstone Foundation to help patients at a medical center pass the time during recovery and treatment.
Last Thanksgiving, Tillman delivered dinner to sailors who couldn't leave their posts as part of a "meals on wheels" visit to the Great Lakes Naval Station in suburban Chicago. A couple months later, he gave two Super Bowl tickets to a military family.
"I just don't think that we can do enough to honor them," Tillman said. "So I'm always out there, always trying to say, 'Thank you, I appreciate it. I really appreciate what you do.'"