When Charles Tillman returned to Louisiana-Lafayette in November to have his No. 5 jersey retired, he had one important stop to make before heading to the football stadium.
The Chicago Bears cornerback attended the dedication of the Charles Tillman Arena, a state-of-the art soccer facility he’s sponsoring for the university’s Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship. The facility was built as an outreach to Louisiana-Lafayette students that hail from all over the world.
“They have a lot of international kids at UL and the No. 1 sport in the world is soccer,” Tillman said. “It’s a way to draw people in and talk about God and talk about Jesus. It’s a perfect fit, especially for the international students.”
Tillman was drawn to Chi Alpha after he met the ministry’s director, Eric Treuil, as a freshman at Louisiana Lafayette. The two remain close 15 years later.
“I met him when I was 18 and we’ve just had a great relationship ever since,” Tillman said. “He basically was my mentor in college and took me under his wing. He taught me a lot. He’s a great chaplain, great father and great husband.”
The soccer arena has been popular since the day it opened.
“There are enough basketball facilities on campus,” Treuil said, “but this is a niche that’s not being met anywhere else on campus or for that matter there’s nobody even in our city that has something like this, and it was just one of those things that we wanted to do for that purpose. It helps us doing outreach with the international students on campus.”
The soccer facility has already hosted a World Cup-like tournament and is regularly packed with students participating in pickup games.
“Literally entire fraternities are coming and wanting to play,” Treuil said. “To have fraternities showing up like they are is just an added bonus to our influence on campus.
“Half the battle to inviting someone to something is getting them through the door, so just getting them on our property is huge. When students are in their own segment of campus, they don’t even know these other parts exist. So this facility has put us on the map with so many different students. We’re talking about kids from around the world that would have never come on our property. It’s helping to expose students to what our ministry’s about.”
Tillman is happy that he’s helping Treuil spread the word.
“Would a fraternity ever give them a call on a given day? No,” Tillman said. “But by opening this soccer arena, it’s a gateway to be able to talk to more people and talk about the gospel of Jesus and God and just religion. They’re not forcing it on anyone. But you can put a little bug in their ear.”
Tillman highly recommends that students listen to what Treuil has to say.
“He knows how to talk to people in the 18-23-year-old age group,” Tillman said. “He’s not your traditional chaplain. He’s got a young, hip vibe to him. When he teaches and talks, he makes it kind of fun. It’s almost comedy. I’ve been going to church my whole life and there were certain things he said where I was like, ‘Wow, I never knew that.’
"When I was a kid I was going to the old southern churches and it was more geared to adults and not kids. And then hearing him speak and hearing his sermons, his style really pulled me in. He made it fun and interesting."