Ties to coach bring NFL star to Grand Prairie

Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman made a surprise appearance at Grand Prairie High career day Thursday.

Tillman, 28, who lives in San Diego, traveled to Texas at his own expense as a favor to Grand Prairie football coach Gary Bartel.

When Bartel was assistant head coach at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, he recruited Tillman from Copperas Cove and served as his position coach.

“We’ve known each other since I was 17,’’ Tillman said. “Coach Bartel kept the promises he made to my parents. When he calls, I try to be here.’’

Tillman spoke to about 40 students who chose athletics/coaching for potential careers. He also addressed students in a Grand Prairie elementary school.

For those hoping to follow his path into professional sports, Tillman’s message is to concentrate on getting a good education as a backup plan because the odds are stacked against them.

“It takes more than physical talent to make it to the NFL,’’ Bartel said. “It is work ethic, intelligence and the desire to be the best. Charles has all of that.’’

Today’s youth are important to Tillman, who is married with two children. The Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, established in 2005, focuses on improving the lives of critically and chronically ill children throughout greater Chicago by providing daily support and life-changing experiences.

In 2007, Tillman was the Bears' nominee for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year award.