Some things never change.
While Charles “Peanut” Tillman was always a fierce competitor on the field, longtime Copperas Cove head coach Jack Welch also remembers a humorous personality in the locker room. So, when Tillman announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday via a video showing him repeatedly performing his trademark “peanut punch” in everyday situations, Welch could not help but recall the kid he coached nearly 20 years ago.
“That is exactly what he was like in high school,” Welch said. “If I ever had to get on to Charles about anything, it was to get serious.
“He played serious, but he loved to kid around, and other guys didn’t know how to kid around and then get serious. He’s just always been a jokester and a kidder, and he enjoys life.”
The former Bulldawg literally hung up his cleats as the approximately 3-minute video concluded, signifying the end of his stellar 13-year career.
Before helping Carolina reach the Super Bowl in February, which he missed due to a torn ACL, in his lone season with the Panthers, Tillman cemented himself as one of the best defensive players to ever suit up for the Chicago Bears.
During his dozen years with Chicago, the cornerback recorded the most defensive touchdown returns (9) and interceptions (36) in franchise history. Additionally, he was named to the Pro Bowl in 2011 and 2012, earning All-Pro First Team honors in 2012.
Admittedly, Welch never envisioned Tillman, who landed on the all-district team twice, would achieve such a high level of success.
“Being a former college coach,” Welch said, “I knew how difficult it was for a young man — no matter how good they are — to make it to college. Then, the amount of people that make it to the professional level are so minute I never would have fathomed he would go on to do all this.
“That is more than picking a needle out of a haystack because the odds are smaller than the needle.”
Tillman overcame the probabilities, though.
After attending Louisiana-Lafayette from 1999 to 2002, Tillman was drafted with the 35th pick in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft and made an immediate impact.
As a rookie, Tillman accounted for 83 tackles and four interceptions before going on to produce 912 tackles, 38 interceptions and eight touchdowns during his career. He also had 140 pass deflections and forced 44 fumbles, while recovering nine.
Prior to suffering his season-ending injury with Carolina, Tillman had 55 tackles and a pair of interceptions through 12 games.
“I honestly think he has a few years left in him,” Welch said, “but I honor his decision to quit while he’s on top and still has all his faculties.”
Away from the field, Tillman dedicated himself to charitable causes and humanitarian efforts, earning the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award in 2013.
Although Welch witnessed multiple former players reach the NFL during his 23-year tenure at Copperas Cove, Tillman was the first to accomplish the feat, infusing the program with tradition and legacy that continues today.
“He is the standard,” Welch said. “He set the standard. He was the first Bulldawg to go pro, and he’s the first to retire, and he did everything the right way.
“He is a good example for everybody to follow, and that to me is such a great honor for Copperas Cove, Bulldawgs athletics and our football program in particular.”